by Eva Dean Folkert
Never has head women's soccer coach Leigh Sears wanted second place in the final MIAA standings more in her Hope coaching life than on Tuesday night. And that is exactly what her Flying Dutch delivered by shutting out Alma College, 3-0, at Van Andel Soccer Stadium.
A satisfying and relieving win it was thanks to a total team effort. With it, Hope leapt from a fourth place into sole possession of second place in the league with a 5-1-2 record, 6-4-6 overall. Alma, in third place before the game started, fell to fourth place in the league with a 5-3 record, 10-5-1 overall.
Now, as the second seed in the upcoming MIAA tournament, Sears' team will get some much-needed time off.
Photo of Brinley Nieuwenhuis by Lynne Powe
"After what we have been through this season, I'll take (second place)," said Sears. "Everybody wants to be in first, but I think after our season, we're pretty happy to be in second and get a first-round bye and get to rest some people and then play next week."
Hope will open at home with the MIAA semifinals next Tuesday, November 5 at 7 p.m. against the winner of a first-round game between third-place Kalamazoo College and six-place Calvin University this Saturday. First-place Adrian College receives the other bye and will play the winner of a first-round game between Alma College and fifth-place Albion College who also play this Saturday.
The title match is Saturday, November 9 at the highest remaining seed. The tournament champ receives the MIAA's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
On Tuesday night, Alma may have taken the first shot of the game, but it was the Flying Dutch who controlled ball possession and created ball pressure for the majority of it. And each Hope goal was as beautifully executed as any it has scored this season.
The first Flying Dutch score came after a restart by the Alma goalie was headed near midfield by Hope's Megan Bigelow who directed the ball back toward the right side of the field. A hustling Caroline Burkhardt collected it and lifted a pass over the right shoulder of a sprinting and closely-marked Sarah Mikesell who froze her defender in the box and lofted a left-footed shot over the upstretched hand of Alma goalie who just barely touched the ball. The deflected shot fell in neatly just under the cross bar and into the left side of the goal at the 22:20 mark.
The goal was sophomore forward Mikesell's third of the season and the assist was sophomore midfielder Burkhardt's third as well.
Eighteen minutes later in the first half, after a Scot player attempted to clear a ball out toward the left sideline, freshman defender Kealeigh Usiak intercepted it before it could go out of bounds and directed an arcing pass toward the middle-top of the 18-yard box. There, junior forward Brinley Nieuwenhuis, pictured above, trapped it with her right foot, dribbled twice and then shot with her left foot to win a one-on-one matchup against the Alma goalie.
The assist was Usiak's first of her collegiate career.
In the second half, Nieuwenhuis scored again when senior forward Abbey Przekop took a long, half-field pass up the left side, dribbled the ball toward the end line and then sent a precise cross to a marked Nieuwenhuis who shook her defender and kicked the ball in just between the goalie and the left goal post at the 61:36 mark.
Przekop recorded her second assist this season and Nieuwenhuis her fourth goal of the season.
Hope and Alma each took eight shots during the game. Hope took two corner kicks while Alma had one.
Hope goalie Jordanne Ellingboe made three saves for her second shutout in a row and 10th this season.