By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
BRIGHTON – This was supposed to be a season of transition for the East Grand Rapids girls lacrosse program.
Gone were 12 seniors and seven starters from the team that last year won the program’s record fourth straight Division 2 championship.
And then the Pioneers lost three straight games as April turned to May, and four of six games total during that string – or one fewer defeat than they’d suffered the last four seasons combined.
And yet, Saturday’s season ending was the same – a 13-11 win over Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood at Brighton that extended the MHSAA-best championship streak to five straight.
“Our motto was kinda, “Rebuilding? More like reloading,’” Pioneers junior attack Lindsay Duca said. “We graduated seven-plus starters last year, and everyone’s asking me, ‘Oh, are you going to win states?’ And I’m like, ‘We’ll be prepared for it, but who knows.”
The Pioneers knew enough, whether it be how to restack the lineup or come back with one of the most dominant 20-minute runs in MHSAA Lacrosse Finals history.
Cranbrook Kingswood (17-7), seeking its first championship in the sport and last season’s runner-up after falling 19-6 in the season finale, scored this game’s first three goals and took a 5-2 lead into the 15th minute.
But Pioneers freshman attack Mary Schumar – playing only her sixth varsity game – scored her first of six goals Saturday off a Duca assist with 10 minutes to go in the first half. By the time senior attack Julia Surman scored 6:40 into the second, East Grand Rapids (17-4) had flipped the advantage with a 7-1 run. That turned into an 11-2 streak when Schumar scored her final goal to give her team a 13-7 lead with 6:43 to play.
“Basically, our team needs to settle down and start picking them apart offensively, and that’s something we’ve been working on all season,” East Grand Rapids coach Rich Axtell said. “And they were just patient and got layups, and that’s what we have to look for.”
Duca, also Schumar’s neighbor, had seven assists during the 11-goal streak and eight assists total – which were second-most for an MHSAA Final behind Mackenzie Lawler’s nine for Okemos in 2010, and tied for fourth-most for any game in MHSAA history.
Surman added three goals for East Grand Rapids, as did junior midfielder Auden Elliott.
Cranbrook Kingswood scored the final four goals, but couldn’t get two more past over the final 1:31. Sophomore midfielder Isabelle Scane scored three of the final four goals and five total, giving her 126 for the season – second-most in MHSAA history. She also had three assists, and senior midfielder Grace Giampetroni scored three goals.
“They play a really nice zone defense which is designed to stop an individual dodger like Isabelle, but she still managed to find some seams and dodge to the cage,” Cranes coach Greg Courter said. “She’s a fierce competitor. I’m not surprised that she beat some triple teams and found a way to score.
“We’re still pretty young," he added. "The heart of our team is sophomores right now. We’re hoping this becomes a common event with a different outcome at some point.”
But East Grand Rapids also should return most of this group next season – only six players graduate, and Surman the only one who scored Saturday.
The Pioneers who come back in 2017 will be another battle-tested group.
“Once we started assisting each other and started playing selflessly, it all came together,” Duca said. “When you have your streak going, it’s hard to (not) let your guard down. But I think that’s one of the strengths of this program. Even if we let our guard down, we always come back and get the job done.”
PHOTOS: (Top) East Grand Rapids’ Lindsay Duca (22) looks for an open teammate during Saturday’s Division 2 Final. (Middle) The Pioneers go on the attack during their comeback win.
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.)