Rockford Adds 6th to Title Streak

June 9, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

GRAND LEDGE – As the rain lifted Saturday afternoon, a third consecutive group of Rockford seniors capped their high school girls lacrosse careers with a fourth straight Division 1 championship.

And then some.

These Rams, led by seniors Brooklyn Neumen and Mekenzie Vander Molen, made their last game perhaps a bit more memorable, setting the MHSAA Finals record for goals in a 25-5 win over Brighton at Grand Ledge High School.

Sophomore Sydney Zimmerman netted her team’s 21st goal with 16:47 to play, that score breaking the record of 20 goals by Okemos in its 2010 Division 2 championship win.

And it was just another accomplishment for a Rockford program that has won six straight Division 1 titles and hasn’t lost to a Michigan opponent since 2016.

“I played with all these girls all though middle school and elementary school; it’s like family, and that’s why I think it’s extra special,” Neumen said. “Everyone on this team, there’s not one person I would say that I wouldn’t love and that I would forget, and I’d love to play with them again if I could. I think it’s kinda sad now that it’s over, but it was a good time.”

The Rams finished 20-2, their only losses to Loyola Academy and New Trier, both of Illinois. Rockford closed with 18 straight victories.

Vander Molen had seven goals and two assists and Neumen scored six and set up two Saturday to both make the list for most goals scored by one player in a Final – Vander Molen’s goals tied for second most. Zimmerman and junior Karrington Vander Molen both added four goals.

Almost more impressive was the defense. Senior Bella VanBuren’s goal 3:45 into the game kept the Bulldogs down just 3-2 – but Rockford gave up only one more score during the first half, and at one point between the end of the first and beginning of the second held Brighton scoreless for more than 17 minutes.

The Rams extended the lead to 10 to start a running clock on a Neumen goal with 12:01 to play in the first half.

“I feel like everyone on our team has that mindset where we want to win, and we want to win by a lot,” Mekenzie Vander Molen said. “We don’t want to have a close game. We just want to go out there as fast as we can, just so we can get more people goals and just have a fun time.”

She and Neumen are two of nine seniors total who played their final high school game – Vander Molen will continue next season at Ohio State University, and Neumen will play next for North Carolina. Another senior, Maggie Hammer, has been among the team’s leading scorers the last two seasons and added two more goals in this finale.

“Some of these kids have been on four championship teams, some on three. Some it was their first, and each and every one of (our championship teams) is special in their own right,” said Rockford coach Mike Emery, whose record improved to 200-43-6 over 11 seasons with the win. “They all have their own culture and their own characteristics, and we start early trying to develop that, trying to get the best out of these kids.”

He pointed to sense of family as one of this team’s special characteristics, and also to its depth throughout the lineup. “We’re going to be back here next year; at least, that’s our plan,” he added. “We’re losing two All-Americans … (but) our plan is to be back here next year because we’ve got some great talent, and we’ll move them around and we’ll find a way.”

Brighton (14-8) intends to be the opponent waiting. The Bulldogs graduate 11 players, but also steered to this championship game despite finishing the regular-season on a 4-4 string and with a coaching change that saw assistant Ashton Peters promoted with three games to go before the playoffs. She led the team to a 6-2 record over the last month.

Peters was on the 2010 Brighton team that fell to Rockford in the Division 1 Final, and also on the 2011 team that won the Division 1 title with an overtime victory over Ann Arbor Pioneer.

“The girls rallied around this coaching staff and just were pumped. They knew we could get here, and that was in our gameplan the entire season,” Peters said. “They have become so disciplined and listen so well now, and so that’s what got us here today. There’s not doubt in my mind that my girls deserved to be here.

“Yes, it was a hard game. Rockford has an incredible program. … (But) what we did to get here paid off, because we got here. Once you get here once, you come back again because you have the drive to get here. And so we’re going to come back, and we’re going to win.”

Click for the full scoring summary.

VIDEO: Mekenzie Vander Molen scores her final high school goal.

PHOTOS: (Top) Rockford’s Brooklyn Neumen works to get past a Brighton defender during Saturday’s Division 1 Final. (Middle) Mekenzie Vander Molen controls the ball for the Rams.

Carman-Ainsworth Grad Shaver Pioneering Programs in 2 College Sports

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

August 8, 2023

Alyssa Shaver has made a habit of getting women’s lacrosse programs off the ground.

Made in Michigan is powered by Michigan Army National Guard.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.

Shaver just finished her third season leading LMU women's lacrosse. 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.”

Shaver (bottom row, fifth from left) was a four-year player at Carman-Ainsworth, including on this 2007 team. 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.)