By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal

LUDINGTON – It’s pretty hard for a high school soccer team to reach elite status without at least one big scorer.

Jacquelyn Lynch

Jacquelyn Lynch

So the Ludington Orioles are pretty lucky to have Jacquelyn Lynch to build around.

The junior forward burst on to the varsity scene in 2012 as a freshman and promptly led her team with 23 goals.

Last year, as a sophomore, she scored 34 goals with 13 assists and was a Division 3 first-team All-State selection.

This year she has 27 goals with two games remaining in the regular season, despite being targeted by every opposing defense.

“In my coaching experience Jacquelyn is the top scorer,” said Ludington girls soccer coach Kris Anderson. “We’ve had some girls who have  been strong offensively, but nobody that scored 25-30 goals per season. She surpassed them in her freshman year.

“She just has that knack for knowing where to be at the right time, and she makes all the girls around her better, which is what you want from your best player.

“She is definitely the engine that makes our team go.”

Lynch had dreamed of wearing the Orioles uniform since she was small and watched her two sisters  play varsity soccer. She was particularly determined to be like her oldest sister, Chelsea, who was also a big scorer at Ludington.

She remembers playing in the back yard with her two older siblings, and having to improve quickly to keep up with them.

“They never just let me have the ball,” Lynch said. “I had to earn it.”

Lynch developed her skills by playing in recreational leagues around Scottville and Ludington, then joined the elite Costa United travel team out of Holland about three years ago.

She said she had a knack for scoring from the first time she took the field.

“It just comes easy for me,” Lynch said. “It just doesn’t seem that hard. I mean, that’s all I do, I just sort of put them in there. I was hoping I would score a lot when I made varsity and it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve really loved it.”

There have been times when Lynch’s production has been jaw-dropping.

Last season she scored three-goal hat tricks in three straight games. This year she opened the season by scoring an amazing seven goals in an 8-0 victory over Mason County Central.

“She has good touches and good ball control,” Anderson said. “She also has good speed and field awareness. She can set a defender up with a good move, then she has good separation speed. Once she gets beyond a defender, it’s tough to catch up with her, so she sets herself up for breakaway opportunities.”

The current season has brought a new challenge for Lynch. While she is still finding the net on a regular basis, the goals have come a bit harder than in the past.

That’s because Lynch has become the main target for opposing defenses. For two years she had older teammates who also scored a lot, but that changed this season, due to the loss of eight senior starters from the 2013 team.

Now opponents focus most of their attention on Lynch, who is frequently double- or triple-teamed in the offensive zone.

“It’s very frustrating sometimes when they put more girls on me, because I want to get those goals,” Lynch said. “But when I do score it’s that much more rewarding. And when they do cover me like that, it allows other girls to get open and get their scoring chances.”

Two younger teammates who have benefitted from those opportunities are Courtney Edwards and Ingrid Peterson, who each have seven goals for Ludington.

“The last couple years we had someone else to go along with her, but this year I was nervous about who that would be,” Anderson said. “But Ingrid and Courtney have really been stepping up and taking some pressure off Jacquelyn.”

The Orioles have had an interesting team the past few seasons. They had winning records in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and captured a Division 3 district championship each year.

This year they have a young team, following the heavy graduation losses last spring. But they are on pace to match their success from the previous seasons, with a 9-6 overall record heading into the last two games of the regular season.

That success may be surprising to some Muskegon-area fans. That’s because the Orioles traditionally struggle against some of the bigger schools in the Lakes 8 Conference and typically finish in the middle of the pack.

But those tough games against Division 2 league opponents prepare them well for the Division 3 state tournament.

“We’ve been third or fourth in the Lakes 8 the past few years, and Spring Lake and Fruitport are always near the top,” said Anderson, whose team finished fourth in the league this year.

“But our conference is very good for us. We go into the tournament having played against teams that are fast and athletic and have made us work. That helps make us a better team.”

Lynch said she has high hopes for the rest of the current season, and says another trip to regionals would be great. But she’s really pumped up about next year, when nearly everyone on the team will return.

“I know when you get a group of girls together it can sometimes get pretty catty, but we all get along great,” Lynch said. “And we have so many good players. Next year they will all have more experience. I’m really excited about next year.”