By Nate Thompson

NORTON SHORES — The Mona Shores girls soccer team may not have the biggest or physically strongest collection of players in West Michigan, but when push comes to shove, the Sailors don’t back down.

“They play with a certain grit,” said Dylan Darga, the Sailors’ first-year head coach. “It’s that Muskegon toughness that comes out. They take pride in that.”

Sarah Mikesell, 10 goals

Add that toughness to tremendous team speed, sound defensive fundamentals and a balanced scoring attack, and it’s clear why the Sailors, who only have three seniors on the roster, have started the season with a perfect 7-0 record.

The Sailors will put their success to the test this week against fellow O-K Black Conference powers Fruitport on Tuesday and Reeths-Puffer on Thursday.

“Looking at the first six games on our schedule, I thought that if we could walk out of that with a winning record, then we’d take it,” Darga admitted.

“But after training with the players for a few days, I realized I had a pretty good group. So with that, I’m not surprised (with our record), because I’ve seen their talent.”

The Sailors have triumphed over several tough non-conference opponents so far, including a very big 3-2 victory over arch-rival Grand Haven.

The great start has reassured the Sailors that their preseason goals of winning an O-K Black championship, and ending a decade-long district-title drought, are definitely attainable.

Raegan Cox, 10 goals

“Right now, we hope to continue the (undefeated) record and take it a game at a time,” said junior forward Sarah Mikesell, who is a co-leader on the team with 10 goals. “Coach is always telling us ‘play confidently,’ so we go into every game with that mindset.

“We’re expecting to compete for a conference title and do well in districts. Last year we had a really good run in districts. We went to the district finals and lost it in the last minute (to Grandville).”

Offensively, Mona Shores has several potent weapons, prompting Mikesell to say opponents have to “watch out for all of us.”

Sophomore Raegan Cox, who also has 10 goals, may be the team’s best overall playmaker. She’s already verbally committed to play at the next level at the University of Arkansas, and she gained invaluable experience playing with one of the top club teams in the state – Grand Rapids-based Midwest United.

“She does everything at 100 percent,” Darga said about Cox. “From competing on the field to training off of it. It’s good to have someone with that kind of drive and passion for the sport. It elevates the play of everyone else.”

Sophomore Nora Brown has notched seven goals, while Peyton Erndteman has four goals, giving the Sailors a quartet of capable, consistent finishers at the net.

Nora Brown, 7 goals

“It’s nice to know that anyone can go off at any given game,” Darga said. “And the girls don’t mind who’s scoring. They’re tremendously unselfish.”

Defensively, Darga said the leader is junior stopper Mal Meston. He says she plays the entire 80 minutes at full speed, and also keeps the Sailors very organized and disciplined on the field.

Between the pipes, junior goalkeeper Megan Swanker has been outstanding, and the Sailors have only given up four goals through the first seven games of the season.

“She’s just a well-rounded athlete,” Darga said. “She could probably pick up a lacrosse stick and excel in that. She’s the jack of all trades.”

It’s Darga who is tying it all together. The 2004 Fruitport graduate, who has coached junior varsity boys soccer at two different schools for more than decade prior to arriving at Mona Shores this spring, said the Sailors’ inexperience shouldn’t hinder their late-season goals.

“I really think we have a chance at winning conference and district titles, and Mona Shores hasn’t won districts in about 10 years,” he said.

“People may point at our inexperience, but these girls have played at a high level outside of high school. They’ve known the game since they were young kids. So I’m not going to use our inexperience as a crutch.”

Sarah Mikesell (left) and Regan Cox (right) lead the Sailors in goals with 10 apiece while Nora Brown has seven goals. Photo/Jason Goorman

Sarah Mikesell (left), Raegan Cox (right) and Nora Brown (center) lead the Sailors in goals so far this season. Photo/Jason Goorman