By Perry A. Farrell
Special for Second Half
NOVI – Less than a minute into Saturday’s Division 2 Girls Lacrosse Final at Novi High School, East Grand Rapids began to assert its dominance against Bloomfield Hills Marian.
And playing a flawless, turnover-free first half, the Pioneers piled up 18 goals on the way to a resounding 22-7 victory to clinch their sixth championship in eight years.
The Pioneers (24-2) had won five straight titles before losing to Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood in the 2017 championship game and not making the Finals last season.
EGR’s high-powered offense scored at least 20 goals in each of its six tournament games this spring.
“We had five really strong seniors, and we had five freshmen come in,’’ said coach Rich Axtell. “It’s a real mixture of age and youth. Last year, we had pretty much the same lineup, but some freshmen have come up and really made a difference.’’
Seniors Mary Schumar (six goals) and Audrey Whiteside (five) led the first-half onslaught as EGR built a 14-goal lead. Both finished with seven goals and were taken out of the game with more than five minutes to play.
“We wanted it so much this year for the seniors,’’ said Whiteside. “I was a freshman when we won it (2016). Mary and I have worked well together. They put me on attack so I could work with Mary so we could get more points. I love working with her. We work together on the draw, and it just came together so well this year.’’
Said Axtell: “Audrey and Mary are once-in-a-decade type of players. Between the two of them, they have 350 points this season. They had an amazing year.’’
The Pioneers wasted little time scoring, as Whiteside found the net the first time 50 seconds into the game for a 1-0 lead. Thirteen seconds later, Schumar scored to make it 2-0. Whiteside quickly scored her second goal and the Pioneers were rolling, up three goals with Marian failing to put together an offensive rush. Schumar followed suit, scoring 38 seconds later to put the Mustangs in a 4-0 hole.
Mia Hannawa finally got the Mustangs on the board with her first goal to trim the deficit to three. Maura Mustion scored for Marian (20-2) to stem the tide and get the Mustangs back into the game at 4-2.
EGR got a goal from Caroline Grin with 19:22 left in the first half to go ahead 5-2. Josie Mehney scored seconds later as the Pioneers extended their lead. Whiteside scored her third of the game to make it 7-2. Schumar scored her third on a penalty power-play shot to make it 8-2 while Marian was a player short.
Sophie Forstner made it 9-2 for the eventual winners with a power-play goal, and Marian coach Sherry Elliott was forced to call a timeout with her team reeling. Schumar scored her fourth, and the rout was on as the Pioneers surged ahead 10-2. Schumar’s fifth goal made it 11-2 with 15:04 still left in the first half.
Coco Chinonis finally ended the Pioneers’ scoring run with a goal to make it 11-3.
Anna Knuble, Whiteside and Lizzie Lundeen scored the next three goals for EGR as they took a 14-3 lead, and Whiteside tacked on her fifth as the Pioneers never let up in taking a 15-3 lead.
Schumar’s sixth increased it to 16-3 as the Mustangs had no answer for the East Grand Rapids fast-paced offense.
“We wanted it so much this year because we have five seniors,’’ said Schumar. “We needed this. In the first half I think our defense was unbeatable. We have one of the fastest defenders in Olivia Grogan. Anna Knuble is really good. She’s just a junior, and she’s going to have a big senior year.’’
Lundeen scored her second goal and Paige Leistra got on the board as the 18-3 lead produced a running clock.
Marian finally challenged EGR goalie Lily Kate Rogers, but the senior came up with three saves. Schumar tacked on her seventh goal to make it 21-5 as time and Marian’s hopes were running out.
“We lose five seniors, but we have lots of talent coming back,’’ said Marian coach Sherry Elliott. “I see big things for us, and I see some young ones coming up.’’
PHOTOS: (Top) East Grand Rapids' Audrey Whiteside (24) fires a shot at the Marian net Saturday. (Middle) Mary Schumar (12) and Marian's Coco Chinonis battle for position.
Alyssa Shaver has made a habit of getting women’s lacrosse programs off the ground.
Her first year in the sport was the first year of the program at Flint Carman-Ainsworth. Her collegiate career involved playing in the inaugural seasons for both University of Detroit Mercy and Lawrence Tech University.
As a coach, she led the first team at Urbana University in Ohio.
When she left Urbana for Lincoln Memorial University, a Division II program in Tennessee, she had an opportunity to take over an established – albeit still relatively new – program.
Two years in, another chance to start a program arose, and she once again stepped up.
However, this was not a different school – but in a different sport.
The 2008 Carman-Ainsworth graduate recently finished her third year in charge of the LMU women’s lacrosse program, and is now preparing for Year 2 in charge of the women’s field hockey program at the school – coaching a sport she had never played and rarely seen.
“I had not watched ‘Ted Lasso’ but when people figured out what I was doing, they told me about it,” Shaver said. “Last fall I started watching it and I was like, ‘Oh God, this is my life right now.’”
Starting with a new sport was how Shaver’s athletic career got jump-started in the first place.
She was a volleyball, basketball and softball player prior to high school, but when her basketball coach brought up the idea of starting a lacrosse program at Carman-Ainsworth, she decided to give it a try. The connection was almost immediate.
“I didn’t know what (lacrosse) was,” she said. “But I put a stick in my hand, and it felt like the most natural thing. I was a point guard in basketball, and I had played basketball since I could walk. I think in lacrosse, the footwork, defense, concepts and ideas are similar to basketball. But when I picked up a stick, it was like, ‘I get to carry this ball around? I don’t have to dribble it?’ From there, it kind of clicked.”
Shaver was a remarkable scorer at Carman-Ainsworth, racking up 226 goals during her four-year career. That included 81 goals her senior season.
While at Carman-Ainsworth, she also continued playing basketball and volleyball.
“As a point guard in basketball, I didn’t really care about scoring,” she said. “In lacrosse, I was really good at offense and scoring. I was a setter in volleyball, so my other sports I was always setting other people up.”
Her success at Carman-Ainsworth and at the club level led to an opportunity to play for U-D Mercy’s new program, led by coach Mary Ann Meltzer. Shaver was an academic all-conference selection during her time there and played for two years before coming back home.
While she was no longer playing, she continued to coach, something she had started while a freshman at Mercy.
It was while coaching a club team that the opportunity to return to playing at Lawrence Tech presented itself.
“It was terrifying,” Shaver said of returning to the game after two years away. “I would play in summer league, and I always had a stick in my hand because I was coaching, but I hadn’t really played competitively. I was 23 and most of my teammates were 18-year-old freshmen. I always joke with them now – some of them are my best friends – but the first couple years, they didn’t want to talk with me and I thought they didn’t like me. It turns out, they were scared of me.”
Shaver played three seasons at Lawrence Tech, earning All-America honorable mention from the National Women’s Lacrosse League in 2014 and first-team NWLL All-America honors in 2015 and 2016. She also was named an All-American by the NAIA as a senior.
Prior to her third season, with Lawrence Tech in need of a coach, Shaver reached out to Meltzer, who had recently retired from U-D Mercy. The two were reunited at LTU, and Shaver and her teammates reaped the benefits, reaching the NWLL championship game, which they lost 9-8 in overtime. Shaver was the NWLL National Offensive Player of the Year.
In 2017, with Shaver on the coaching staff, Lawrence Tech advanced to the NAIA national title game.
“She’s pretty much responsible for a lot of our program at Lawrence Tech,” Meltzer said. “She was the driving force in recruiting kids. She had taken a couple years off, and I think when she came here she was that responsible and was kind of the go-getter in getting players and getting people interested in LTU for quite a while. Fortunately, we’ve done well.”
In 2018, Shaver took over at Lourdes (Ohio), leading the program to its first winning season in her first year.
After two years at Lourdes, she took over Urbana, building the program from scratch. She took over the LMU program prior to the 2021 season. The Lady Railsplitters were 2-5 her first season, but have gone 12-7 and 10-9 in the two seasons since.
Shaver taking over the field hockey program alongside her lacrosse duties wasn’t the original plan. But after things fell through with the coach originally hired for the job, and with some of her lacrosse players signed on to play both as well, the LMU administration turned to her.
“I have a lot of experience with new programs with lacrosse, and the girls were so great and super appreciative,” she said. “My lacrosse players have some experience, and a lot of the field hockey girls were just awesome and understanding, and helping me learn.”
Shaver is learning the game and was able to get some help from volunteer assistant Khotsofalo Pheko, a former runner at LMU who played field hockey in South Africa before coming to Tennessee.
Meltzer has faith in her former player to navigate all of it and find success, even if she told Shaver she was crazy for taking on the field hockey job initially.
“Obviously she has the work ethic, and she’s going to do what she needs to do to be successful,” Meltzer said. “As coaches, especially younger coaches, when things aren’t going well they think that more is better when sometimes less is better. I think she just needs to be patient; we all do. That’s the biggest thing. With her, starting so many programs – we’re all competitive, we all want to be successful really quick – it is going to take time.
“She’s an incredible person. She has a heart of gold.”
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PHOTOS (Top) At left, Alyssa Shaver takes the field for Flint Carman-Ainsworth, and at right she coaches at Lincoln Memorial University. (Middle) Shaver just finished her third season leading LMU women's lacrosse. (Below) Shaver (bottom row, fifth from left) was a four-year player at Carman-Ainsworth, including on this 2007 team. (Photos courtesy of Alyssa Shaver and Lincoln Memorial's athletic department.)