Grand Valley State University boasts not only the No. 1 women's soccer team in all of theNCAADivision II, but also an up-and-coming men's club team that appears to be primed for a historic season.
The men's club team recorded a crucial victory over the University of Notre Dame on Saturday after sophomore forward Nolan Berry cashed in on a breakaway goal in the second half to spark a 2-0 home victory.
"We needed that win," senior captain Tim Devine said. "If we would have lost, we would have lost our trip to regionals."
GVSU(10-1-1) moved into third place in the Midwest Alliance Soccer Conference (MASC) Central Division standings with a 6-1-1 record after the team secured a 2-0 weekend win with a 3-1 home victory over Valparaiso University on Sunday.
The University of Michigan currently holds the No. 1 spot in the Central while theMASCreigning champions of Michigan State University rank second.
TheMASCformat (four 11-team divisions) bids only the top three squads in each division a trip to the regional tournament, making the jump to third an important one.GVSUhas a chance to secure the third seed on the road with a victory or tie against Eastern Michigan University on Saturday at 2 p.m.
"We've got a good chance to surprise people," Devine said. "We want to get one of those bids. We beat ND 2-0 and Michigan only beat them 1-0. We're not far behind."
GVSUhas never won the regional tournament, but the team did manage to qualify for the national tournament in 2012. However, the core group of players were seniors who have since graduated.
Senior defender Alec Lanigan said the 2013 season was expected to be somewhat of a rebuilding year. The team has eight freshmen on its roster.
"Last year we graduated a ton of seniors. We thought it would be a rough year," Lanigan said. "You've got to give these freshmen credit. They came in here and began to mesh immediately. There's usually a learning curve but they picked it up really quick and came out flying."
The Lakers also lost a bit of physical assertiveness from last season. The co-captain said the team has a very small number of players that exceed the 6-foot mark.
What the team lacks in size and experience it makes up for with speed. If its ball-possession style of attack stops working, it is able to switch to a counter-attack approach that has led to a number of breakaway opportunities.
"We're a very small team," he said. "We have to work our game through speed and keep the ball on the ground. We don't have any star players, just a lot of teamwork and taking advantage of our speed. We're a lot more unpredictable now."
Head coach Jeff Crooks said he is pleasantly surprised with the success of his team in his 11th season, and that the past few years have really elevated the program to new heights.
He said he attributes much of the success this season to the leadership provided by the five seniors.
"They're all extremely important," Crooks said. "They not only bring leadership, but also experience. Beating Notre Dame put us in a great position to advance to the playoffs. For this team, for how young we are, it's a big accomplishment and it has a lot to say about those five guys and their hard work."
GVSUwill conclude its regular season in a key match against Michigan. If the Lakers are able to take down the Wolverines, it could mean an automatic national qualifying bid.
The game will take place on the west intramural field at the Allendale Campus on Oct. 19 at 3 p.m.