By Ron Rop
Local Sports Journal

Ben Ritsema has high hopes this season for his men’s soccer team at Muskegon Community College.

The head coach scans his roster and sees 10 returning players, most of whom were starters a year ago.

“It’s a nice group,” said Ritsema, who is leading the Jayhawks in to their second season as a varsity team. “And I like the freshmen coming in.”

Ben Ritsema

While having a solid nucleus of last year’s team coming back, Ritsema does have one concern, at least at this point – defense.

“We did lose our defensive line and that is my main concern,” Ritsema said.

However, there is confidence in his voice that he has the players who will step in and get the job done.

The last line of defense is the goalkeeper, sophomore Tyler Lane, a graduate of Western Michigan Christian High School.

He was named first-team all-conference a year ago.

“Out of that group of returning players, having Tyler Lane back in net will really be big for us,” Ritsema said.

Other key returnees include midfielders Tanner Schaap (Grand Haven) and Drew Maus (Fruitport). Both are expected to make significant contributions from the middle of the field.

At forward, Ritsema has a huge hold to fill with the departure of Nate Schmitt, who led the team with 17 goals last season. Schmitt has taken his talents to Division 2 University of Charleston in West Virginia.

Up front, the Jayhawks have Ryan Wagenmaker (Reeths-Puffer) and Michael Schmitt (Reeths-Puffer). Both are 6-foot-2 and possess the size, skill and speed to get the job done.

On defense, Ritsema is contemplating putting Fredi Lopez (Reeths-Puffer) back there.

Last season, he was a midfielder. Kody Harrell (Orchard View) will be playing midfield and defense, according to Ritsema. Greg Sischo (North Muskegon) could get playing time on defense or at forward.

Other returnees who will be patrolling the defensive zone include Ron Fisk (Cedar Springs) and Cameron Rogers (Reeths-Puffer).

“Rogers had some time in the back and Ron Fisk did as well,” Ritsema said.

Several incoming freshmen also have caught the eye of the coach.

That group includes Eric Hilt (Reeths-Puffer), Zach Sutton (Orchard View), Dylan Darga (Fruitport) and Ivan Navarrette (Wyoming Rogers)..

Darga is 26 years old and Navarrette has been out of high school for several years.

“Older players sometimes are those guys who miss soccer so much and if they get the opportunity to play soccer ball, they jump on it,” said Ritsema, who expects Schoolcraft, Cincinnati State Tech and Owens Community College to be top-notch competition on this year’s schedule.

Schoolcraft has six straight league titles and heads into the season ranked No. 6 in the country.

This season’s home games will be played at Reeths-Puffer High School. Last year, the Jayhawks played at Orchard View High School.