Mona Shores soccer flexes versatility in shutout of Reeths-Puffer

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Mona Shores teammates celebrate with Bri Wade, back to the camera, after Wade scored a goal in the second half during a football game against Grand Haven on Saturday, May 15, 2021 in Norton Shores, Michigan. Mona Shores defeated Grand Haven at the Sailors. Seniors Day, 3-1. (Scott DeCamp | MLive.com)(Scott DeCamp | MLive.com)

NORTON SHORES — The Mona Shores girls’ soccer team has become something of a Swiss army knife this spring as they offer a variety of ways to throw their opponent off balance and out of position.

The Sailors used a stifling back-end defensive effort and balanced goal attack to build an early lead and knock out their OK Green Conference rivals from Reeth’s buffer for a 5-0 home win on Thursday night.

Senior Lydia Sowles scored twice in the first half after an early goal by Shay Norden as a sophomore to help Mona Shores build a 3-0 lead at halftime. North added their second goal of the game midway through the second half, while senior Mia Brown slipped past some Rocket defenders and scored a goal of her own with 10 minutes left to bring the game to its final score.

Ali Trautner, Addison Nellis and Brown each added an assist that night while Ella Buikema made seven saves at the net to secure the win.

Mona Shores improves to 4-1-1 overall and 3-0-1 in the OK Green. They’ll head north this weekend to take on Traverse City Central and DeWitt (Division 2) in 7th place in two non-conference duels.

“Aside from a couple of breaks, I think it was a pretty even game,” said Dylan Darga, Mona Shores head coach. “I know the result doesn’t show that exactly, but Reeth’s buffer really struggled with us. I think the biggest difference was the early goals we scored. Any time you can take a 3-0 lead in the first half, especially in a rivalry game, it really changes the complexion of the game.

“I give (Reeth’s) puffer a lot of credit. They played a tough game but I think our girls really wore them down, especially in the second half. I thought our backline played strong all game and I thought everyone on our team played good physical defense tonight.

The Sailors’ defensive line-up of Ali Phillips, Sophia Fisher, Molly Wolf, Emma Anderson, Mal Hogston and Lauren Hylland helped limit Reeth’s buffer to just seven shots and killed prolific goalscorers Emma Martin and Sophia Hekkema difficult.

“We preach team defense all the time and I think our shift really helped us today,” Darga added. “We knew we had to play physically to disrupt what they like to do and I thought we did a really good job once we got possession.

“We had a couple of lucky breaks in the first half and we hit them and managed to keep them off the board. So that helps you build momentum, especially at home.”

As the Sailors gained possession in Reeths buffer territory, they used a variety of different scoring chances to light up the scoreboard with the long-range accuracy of players like Sowles and Norden from the outside and the playmaking ability of Brown midfield.

“Lydia gives us such a big spark. She plays this outer midfield spot so well and she combines her speed, high footballing IQ and great one-on-one skills to really give people seizures in defense. Shay is the same, and they both do an excellent job of feeding each other when they’re out there attacking.

“Then we have girls like Mia who can play 80 minutes and she can play 80 minutes at a very high level. Her speed and soccer IQ are simply unmatched at this level. As an attacking midfielder, she plays the game much harder than what that position usually entails. She wins almost every 50/50 ball, she always challenges possession when the ball is in the air and she will absolutely kill the opposing team’s flow.

“That’s why I love playing her in that position because she just devastates the other team. She rewarded herself with a really nice goal to end the game so I was really happy to see that tonight.”

They have cultivated the Sailors’ versatility in practice and it shines through on the day of the game.

“I just think we all (individually) do what we have to do to win,” Brown said. “We talk about it a lot in training and then we come here and execute during games and I think a lot of our success comes from being prepared and playing within ourselves.

“(Tonight) it was great to get everyone involved, especially in these rivalry games. In the beginning, games like this are very nerve-racking, but once we scored the first goal we just kept going and I think everyone gained a lot of confidence from that point on.”

When Reeth’s buffer managed to connect a couple of passes in the zone from Mona Shores and threatened to score, senior goaltender Ella Buikema was there to shut the door.

“Ella stopped that one shot attempt when it was 2-0 in the first half, which was huge for us,” Darga said of his goalkeeper. “She just read the game well, slipped and made a nice save. Also on Tuesday she had a similar save against Zeeland. She just has great control of the game and plays with so much confidence. She’s the kind of person who commands the field for us, and she’s a vocal leader. As captain, she has really embraced that role in the team and I think she has felt excellent about it so far this year.”

As Darga enters his sixth season at the helm of Mona Shores, he believes he has the right combination of skills, experience and leadership to compete for postseason hardware this spring.

“I think a lot of these girls are eyeing a district championship this year, so it’s a bust for us this spring either way,” he said. “As a coach, that doesn’t bother me because it gives them something to strive for every day in training and something to point to when I feel like they need a little motivation.”

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