In a sport of highs and lows, the Kentwood Conquerors girls soccer team had a whole lot of highs and ended on an even higher note with a 2-0 win over Kennedy Catholic on Oct. 24.
“The girls knew this was a game to put them in a better position for districts and they came to play,” Head Coach Scott Gibb said.
“When we play calm and highlight how we are such a good team and have such a good community, that’s when we play our best soccer. That’s because we all play for each other,” said first goal scorer Annika Akiona.
It has been a really solid year for the Conks, a senior-laden roster that is primed and ready for the postseason.
“This is where the fun begins. This is what we play for — play a quick tournament and hopefully do well enough. Our goal is state,” Gibb said.
For many of those seniors, protecting their home field in what could be their final home game was super encouraging for Coach Gibb.
“For a lot of these seniors it was the last time they may get a chance to protect our home turf. I appreciate and applaud them for taking care of what they needed to,” he said.
But the team isn’t all seniors. Freshman keeper Logan Mabalay is in her first year, but her play shows that of a four-year varsity starter.
“The future is so bright for her. For her to start and be thrown in like that, she’s only going to get better. It’s very exciting to see what her future looks like, “ said Gibb.
Mabalay also gets a ton of love from her teammates: “Oh my gosh, she’s so good. We love her so much. She plays like she’s ten feet tall. She’s crazy… She plays with so much confidence, I love her so much,” said Akiona.
For the seventh time of the season, Kentwood kept a clean sheet, thanks in part to a great back line of defense.
“That backline of Loso, Emma, McKenzie, Jada, Kadora and Claire as a group of six they work to make Logan’s life a lot easier,” Gibb said.
The first goal scorer for the Conks was Akiona on a volley off the head of Tori Loso. Leila Ramirez-Noon kicked a corner that grazed the head of Loso, who directed it back to the middle for Akiona to cash in and take the lead.
“She is a ferocious defender. For her to get a goal it speaks volumes that she puts herself in the right spaces as a teammate. She so totally is that player that deserved the goal,” Gibb said.
Akiona’s goal was the difference in the game with the Lancers not being able to score all game. The insurance goal came mid-way through the second half.
After neither side really had a true scoring opportunity, Kentwood dominated the run of play and was rewarded with a second. Ramirez-Noon shot from 30 yards away from goal, the ball deflected off a Lancer defender and snuck its way into the goal. She’ll be credited with the goal, even if personally she doesn’t count it, she said on the sidelines.
The Conks ended the year on a five-game unbeaten streak including winning their last four. The key? How well the team members connect with one another: “Our connection (gets us going). We all really like each other, we have a lot of sisterhood,” Ramirez-Noon said.
Confidence is at an all-time high for Kentwood, and what better time to peak than going into the playoffs?
“The confidence of every single player has grown so much. Especially the underclassmen, they’re really coming out of their shells and turning into really good players… I’m excited for them in the future,” Akiona said.
With the win, Kentwood secured third place in the NPSL behind rival Kentridge and first place finisher Tahoma. If the records hold in the SPSL, the Conks will travel to Sumner and take on the Spartans, who would be the league champs.
It wouldn’t be the first time Kentwood has faced the Spartans this year — they opened their season against Sumner and fell 5-1. But that team that played Sumner was left in the past: “I would welcome, actually I would like to play them again… I’ll take whoever shows up, that’s how we play the game,” Gibb said.
The players are already thinking tactically on how to beat their next opponent.
“A lot of their (Sumner) goals came from us not pressing and allowing them to shoot from outside. So if we press harder and work together, we will be able to do well,” Ramirez-Noon said.
Kentwood goes into the playoffs as the eighth seed and takes on the number one seed on Oct. 28 on the road.