Gielczyk: Elk Rapids Brimming with Talent
Elk Rapids has most of its girls soccer team returning from last year, and expectations are understandably running pretty high as the Elks finally take to the field to begin the 2018 season after snow had kept the Elks practicing in the gym since March 12, and canceled the first five games.
Although four or five girls graduated off last year’s team that finished second in the Lake Michigan Conference and won the Division 4 district title before losing in the regional finals, only one was a four-year varsity player. One transferred to Traverse City St. Francis.
Obviously, like every season, there are some holes. But, the Elks have 27 players in the program, and are trying to field a junior varsity team to provide the younger players more game experience before taking the step up to varsity.
“Some of the kids will be going back and forth between JV and varsity,” long time Elks head coach Andrea Krakow said, “depending on the opponent, depending on the day.”
Typically, defense will be the key for the Elks, who came into the season ranked fifth in the Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Association Division 4 poll with goalie Drew Antcliff, as well as defenders Kyla Pryde, Maran Huggins and Kendall Brown returning.
Heather Brothers also played some defense and midfield last year and should figure into the mix. Clare Klein played midfield and forward, while Nikki Hayes played forward.
Hayes and Klein each scored a goal in the Elk’s season and Lake Michigan Conference opening 2-0 victory over Harbor Springs on Monday.
The Elks played Harbor Springs to a 0-0 tie in the first half. The Elks appeared to be trying to get accustomed to playing on a field with more space to play. It took them the entire first half to become acclimated to the speed of play.
“I was pleased with how the defense stepped up and played 80 minutes without any breaks or substitutions,” Krakow said. “There was a good amount of communication and aggressiveness.
“We were able to capitalize on a few through balls where we beat the defenders. It seemed like after halftime the girls took the field with a new energy.”
Abigail Riffel sent a ball up and over the Harbor Springs defense to where Hayes was able to find the net from the right side inside the 18, breaking through for the Elks’ initial goal of the season. Klein turned and fired a shot to make it 2-0 for the Elks about 10 to 15 minutes later.
Despite a good performance for their first game, and coming out of it with a win, especially in the conference opener, Krakow wasn’t satisfied and saw some glitches in team’s play.
She’ll focus on those areas as the Elks get the season rolling in earnest now that spring finally seems to have arrived and the snow continues to melt.
“Our touches on the ball were not precise,” said the coach. “Our endurance was fair, and our transition was slow. We will be trying to figure out the best options for the lineups as we play each game.
“Play in the gym is very different than play on a field. We will continue to condition and work on transition movement.”
Krakow is confident the Elks will be able to put pressure on the opponents net. Although the girl who transferred was one of Elk Rapids offensive players, a couple of girls have started to step up and take that role even though the Elks didn’t practice outside.
It’s going to have be a team effort, Krakow says.
“Nikki Hayes is definitely an offensive presence on the field,” said Krakow. “She’s able to finish and put it in the back of the net. But, without some of the other players sending her balls and assisting her, she wouldn’t have those numbers.”
Krakow is confident that will happen because the Elks’ defenders have all played together for several years now, so they’re used to making that transition from defense to offense, and as a unit move up the field.
She says the Elks have the capablity to play to space, or to play it to feet.
Antcliff comes into the season with a year’s experience playing goalie on the varsity, after a year as the junior varsity’s keeper, and Krakow says she’s becoming more confident, and more vocal.
The Elks have reached the regional final the last two years, only to be denied both times. Last year, they lost in overtime after holding a lead until the last 10 minutes of regulation. The year before that, Elk Rapids lost in the regional final in a shootout.
As a result, the Elks have a fire buring in their belly this year to get back to the regional and crack through for the title.
Elk Rapids has not won a regional title in girls soccer, and the Elks would like to rectify that situation this year.
Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. Gielczyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for story ideas.