By Lucas Rains

MUSKEGON – The Western Michigan Christian girls soccer team is embarking on the new season with a lot of optimism, with very good reason.LSJ Logo incert

Last year the Warriors posted a 19-2-1 record and advanced all the way to the Division 4 state semifinals. That team was anchored by a pair of All-Staters – forward Alexys Riksen and goalkeeper Lindsey Johnson.

WMC soccer All-Staters Alexys Riksen, left, and Lindsey Johnson.

WMC soccer All-Staters Alexys Riksen, left, and Lindsey Johnson.

Both are back this year for their senior seasons, giving the Warriors an automatic edge on both ends of the field.

“They are both very mature players,” said WMC Coach Dave Hulings, who has watched Riksen and Johnson develop their skills and mature over the years.

“They are dynamic young women and they do a good job of bringing the younger players along because they remember what it was like to be there. And as seniors, they are more willing to learn from the game when things go wrong.”

Riksen, a first-team All-Stater, is coming off a monster junior season with 25 goals, which included four in the Warriors’ first game of 2014. Her unique scoring touch makes WMC a threat to beat any team in any situation.

Hulings said Riksen’s scoring ability is the product of a special mindset that all soccer forwards should have.

“Alexis has that mentality where, wherever she’s at on the field, she can score,” Hulings said. “She has that in her head all the time. It’s really important for our team for her to pull the trigger a lot.”

Riksen admits that she’s always looking to score, but says her motivation has nothing to do with personal statistics.

“When I’m out on the field, I’m playing for the Lord and I’m just trying to play my best for him and for my team,” Riksen said. “Obviously my goal is to score goals, but it’s not just for me. We want to grow as a team spiritually and keep building the program for the years to come.”

Johnson also had a breakout season last year, earning third-team All-State Honors. She posted eight shutouts and a .83 goals against average.

Hulings said he’s been fortunate to have a number of quality goalkeepers in his 25 years of coaching, with Johnson being the most recent example.

“I’m blessed to have a player like Lindsey to anchor the back,” Hulings said. “She’s a big-time gamer. The bigger the game, the bigger she plays. I think she gets bored in some of our easier games.”

Johnson admits she puts a lot of pressure on herself to perform well. She said she relies a lot on her teammates’ strong defensive play, and wants to return the favor by being a reliable last line of defense.

“We have a really strong defense, so they keep the ball away from me a lot,” Johnson said. “I guess my mindset is to just be there like they are for me.”

Of course Riksen and Johnson and just two weapons in a talented lineup for WMC, a traditional power that’s produced great girls and boys teams for years.

“This team is not about just one person,” Johnson said. “The players coming off the bench are very important. It’s not about who scores the most. We are focusing on playing together as a tight-knit group.

“Each year we’ve made it really far and our goal as a team this year is just to make it that far again. We’ve been able to make it to regionals and the state semifinals, so it would be great to do it again.”

The Warriors are off to a slow start this season, with a 2-3-1 record. That’s partially a reflection of how important Riksen and Johnson are to the team.

Riksen was sick earlier in the season and was out of the lineup for a short time. Johnson is currently sidelined after suffering a concussion in a recent game and will be out for awhile. Several other key players have been injured, as well.

“We’re not as deep as we used to be,” Hulings said. “We have four or five really good players injured already. That could bring trouble against good teams.”

A hopeful sign came Monday, when the Warriors beat an always strong Grand Rapids Covenant Christian team 2-1.

In any case, Hulings knows it’s a long season, and he’s not thinking too far ahead.

“I don’t really have a goal for the season,” the coach explained. “I divide the season into four six-game parts, the last six being the tournament. Right now, I’m focused on our first games and how we knit together as a team.”