By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Lauren Hooker gets up for every lacrosse game. She and her teammates will dress the same for school, send each other pump-up messages throughout the day and carry that momentum into the locker room and onto the field.
But she admits she plays her best against her toughest opponents.
“It’s playing to their level. Playing someone good forces you to step up and play the best,” Hooker said. “It brings the best out of you. I don’t enjoy playing some of the really easy teams as much.”
The East Grand Rapids senior loves a challenge. And she’s helping the Pioneers blaze through a few of them in this, her final high school season, before joining the Marquette University program this fall.
East Grand Rapids has started this season 20-0. The Pioneers are ranked No. 1 both in Division 2 and regardless of division based on the computer rankings supplied by LaxPower.com. And they are doing so with only two seniors – although Hooker, who received a Second Half High 5 this week, gives the team a star at the top that few teams in Michigan can counter.
Playing attack, she’s scored 101 goals -- already third-most for a single season in the MHSAA record book, and more than 25 percent of her team's total. Add in her 33 assists, and her 134 total points are fifth in MHSAA history for one season.
And indeed, she’s been at her best against the best. Hooker had three goals and three assists in an 11-9 win last week over No. 2-ranked Grand Rapids Catholic Central. She scored seven goals in each of two games against Division 1 No. 5 Rockford, and had nine goals in Monday’s 17-8 win over Division 1 No. 2 Hartland.
“She’s what I’d call sneaky quick. Basically, she doesn’t take a big wind-up in her shot; it looks like she’s cradling, looking to pass. And then she just puts it past the goalie,” Pioneers coach Rich Axtell said. “Some players take a different approach, but she’s deceptive. She’s got really good stick control. When she’s in close, she can make you feel pretty slow by comparison.”
Hooker has been on a quest after being part of teams that have lost either in the first or second rounds of Regionals her first three seasons. The last two, the Pioneers ended with defeats by the eventual MHSAA champions. A year ago, they lost 14-13 in double overtime to eventual Finals winner Grand Rapids Catholic Central.
But there’s no question in Axtell's mind that Hooker has brought her game up a level this spring. That effort began in September, when she hit the weight room for training that continued all winter.
Hooker said she started those sessions in part to bring the team together early, especially with so many young players joining the program. Axtell said he thinks part of that drive also came with getting the scholarship to Marquette, which will begin as an NCAA program in 2013.
“She’s really playing with a lot more purpose,” Axtell said.
Hooker first was a golfer, before quitting that sport until taking it up again as a freshman in high school. In the fall, she was the low scorer on the Pioneers golf team that finished eighth at the Division 3 Final, and she missed the individual top 10 by only two strokes.
But lacrosse has been her number one since she first picked up the game during third and fourth grades. “A huge tomboy,” Hooker learned the game from a boy who lived in her neighborhood. After attending a couple of boys clinics, her mom found a girls team for her in the Forest Hills area.
Her mom and group of others then organized an East Grand Rapids youth team that Hooker joined for a few years before jumping up to the Pioneers’ varsity lineup as a freshman.
This offseason she accepted the challenge to set a championship standard. She hopes to leave high school next month having helped the Pioneers win their first MHSAA lacrosse title – with the groundwork for more to come as she moves on.
“I have a lot of hope for the program to continue to do so well,” Hooker said. “Hopefully when I’m gone, people will carry on doing so well.”
Click to read more about Hooker's future plans and lacrosse influences.
PHOTOS: East Grand Rapids' Lauren Hooker (14) has scored 101 goals this season (Photos courtesy of East Grand Rapids lacrosse.).
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.)