Step by step: Big Rapids rolls Whitehall for first district win in 10 years

BIG RAPIDS— Five steps were outlined for the Big Rapids girls soccer team to be successful before the start of the season.

Passing, successful through balls, winning every challenge, positional sense and direct play were written on index cards by team members as reminders on what the team needed to improve on.

Now, following an 8-0 win over Whitehall on Monday in district play, Big Rapids coach Emmanuel Foko is finally starting to see all of the steps come together.

AFTER THE BALL: Holly King (right) of Big Rapids goes after the ball during Tuesday's girls soccer contest against Whitehall at Big Rapids High School. (Pioneer photo/Martin Slagter)

“You would see us, especially at the middle of the season, grasp one concept but then drop another,” he said. “At this point in the season we’re starting to bring all of it together.”

The Cardinals (8-10) started to “get it” in time for its first win in 10 years of district competition. Big Rapids used proficient passing on through balls throughout the first half to build a 4-0 lead going into the break after dominating ball position in the first 40 minutes.

Big Rapids scored first just 3:21 into the game on a nifty pass from Paige Johnson to Erin Thompson, who scored the first of her four goals on the afternoon to make it 1-0.

The Cardinals didn’t wait long to add another goal, with 31:17 remaining in the half, with Johnson doing the honors this time by lofting a shot over goaltender Heather Dillon’s head.

Johnson credited the team’s passing and positional sense for the quick start.

“In the first half we all came out ready and really hungry,” she said. “This is the first time in 10 years that we’ve been able to celebrate a district win, so we’re pretty happy.”

Foko, who has stressed execution on through balls to his team the entire season, said Big Rapids couldn’t have done a better job in that facet of the game on Monday.

“They were excellent,” Foko said of his team’s through ball execution. “That’s our brand. They have stayed faithful to that this year, and they are starting to see the benefits of that now.”

Big Rapids would continue to use its speed and passing to put together more scoring opportunities, including a Thompson breakaway that was stopped by Dillon with 11 minutes remaining in the half.

The Cardinals would make it 3-0 with 9:04 remaining on Thompson’s second goal of the half on an assist from Maddie Bucholtz.

With 2:23 remaining, Big Rapids built a comfortable lead on a goal by Liz Nonhof, who received a pass from Bree Miller, who came up with the ball after a goal kick from Dillon.

Thompson credited through balls and better awareness on the field for the 4-0 lead going into the break.

“Our passing has gotten so much better as the year has gone on,” she said. “At the beginning of the year I think we were a little more selfish, all trying to be the hero and score. Now we’re playing as a team and looking for each other all of the time.”

There was no second half letdown for the Cardinals, who scored just under two minutes into the second half on a goal by Katie Hancock to make it 5-0.

Thompson would get a hat trick with 34:23 remaining in the game shortly after rain began to pour on the field for about 10 minutes.

Despite a good first half, the Cardinals tried to forget about their advantage going into the final 40 minutes.

“We said it was still 0-0 at the half and we wanted to build on that,” Thompson said. “We just kept executing the through balls in the second half. That was the biggest thing, offensively.”

Bucholtz would add a goal with 18:38 remaining on a rebound of Holly King’s shot to make it 7-0. The game was mercied a minute later on Thompson’s fourth goal.

Big Rapids now shifts its attention to Shelby, who it will play today at Fremont Providence Christian.

The key to keeping momentum going in the right direction will be maintaining defensive pressure, Johnson said.

“The defense has been amazing for us,” she said. “We know we’ve got a challenge, so we’ve got to play our best game (today).”

Visit the photo gallery to see more photos from this game.

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