NOVI – The frightening thing about East Grand Rapids’ girls lacrosse roster this season is there was just one senior.
The Pioneers beat Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood 15-11 Saturday afternoon at Novi High School to claim their seventh Division 2 title.
It was an opportunity last year’s seniors didn’t receive due to COVID-19 forcing a canceled season, and that wasn’t lost on their former teammates who came back this spring.
“It was really tough last year; we had so many seniors that we loved so much and were excited about playing with,’’ said junior Lucy Cavanaugh, who had six assists and scored four goals for EGR. “This year we wanted to come in strong. We only have one senior this year. Some of these juniors had never played on varsity. We worked so hard this year, and we practiced so much.’’
Junior Lizzie Lundeen, who had scored 102 goals heading into this week, added five more in the finale.
“The only goals that were important were the ones scored in this game,’’ she said. “We practiced all the time. Eliana (LaMange) played great. She had that goal just before half, (that) was amazing. We felt a lot stronger with that goal.
“This was surreal because we’ve had a long, strung-out season because of COVID. We didn’t want to take it for granted.’’
Regulars in the Division 2 Final, East Grand Rapids previously had won six titles while Cranbrook (13-7) had captured championships in 2017 and 2018.
East Grand Rapids (23-2) wasted no time scoring as Lundeen netted her first 40 seconds into the fray for a 1-0 lead.
Cavanaugh tacked on the Pioneers’ second goal for a 2-0 lead as play stayed in the Cranbrook end.
Cranbrook finally got out of its end and scored on a goal by junior Riya Batra to cut the deficit in half. The Cranes then tied it 2-2 on a goal by Lilli Sherman.
Lundeen scored her second goal of the game for a 3-2 lead with Cavanaugh getting her second assist.
Lola Norton tied the game at 3 for Cranbrook at the 15:13 mark, and the Cranes took their first lead on a goal by Eryn McLaughlin with 12:33 left in the first half.
LaMange tied the game for EGR on Cavanaugh’s third assist, then Cavanaugh scored her second goal to give the Pioneers a 5-4 lead, and LaMange scored her second to make it 6-4. Lundeen scored her third to give EGR a 7-4.
Mallory Brophy scored for the Cranes to make it 7-5. Oliva DeMuth got the Cranes’ to within one goal with a score with 2:37 left in the first half.
Lundeen scored her fourth goal of the half to give the Pioneers an 8-6 lead and tacked on her fifth to put the Pioneers three up. LaMange scored her third just before the buzzer to put EGR up 10-6.
Cavanaugh scored her third to start the second half as East Grand Rapids opened up an 11-6 lead.
The teams traded goals with LaMange scoring her fourth of the game to make it 12-7. Cavanaugh responded with her fourth to increase the lead to 13-7.
EGR started pouring it on as LaMange scored her fifth to make it 14-7.
Consecutive goals by Brophy and Ella Lantigua cut the East Grand Rapids lead to 15-10 with 8:26 left in the game.
After an EGR timeout, the Pioneers went into a four corners offense, draining two minutes off the clock.
“They are a class act,’’ said Cranbrook coach Jeanne Woodbury. “We didn’t play as well as we liked, but we’re a young team and we have a chance to get back.’’
PHOTOS: (Top) East Grand Rapids' Eliana LaMange (24) fires a shot during Saturday's Division 2 Final. (Middle) Cranbrook's Lilli Sherman (14) works to take possession from EGR.
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.)