By Mitchell Boatman

MUSKEGON TOWNSHIP – Behind every successful soccer team, you’ll find a great goalie.

For Reeths-Puffer, that goalie is senior Jake Lofgren, a fourth-year varsity player who has helped take the Rockets’ program to unprecedented heights.

He started in goal for 15 games as a freshman, and turned in an impressive four shutouts.

Lofgren was primarily a midfielder as a sophomore, and scored three goals.

Last year he returned to his job as the full-time goalkeeper and had a breakout season, turning in a sparkling 1.29 goals against average with eight shutouts, which earned him honorable mention All-State honors.

Lofgren saved some of his best work last year for the postseason.

R-P goalkeeper Jake Lofgren. Photo/Joe Lane

In the first round of the Division 2 district tournament, he stopped seven of eight shots in regulation and two overtime periods, then stopped two of three shots in the overtime shootout. His effort helped the Rockets stun Spring Lake, the second-ranked team in the state, 2-1.

Lofgren got a shutout in Reeths-Puffer’s 1-0 win over Fruitport in the semifinals, then was forced to face another OT shootout in the district championship game against Ludington.

He didn’t do great in the shootout, allowing six goals on Ludington’s first seven shots. But his teammates kept scoring, as well, and the shootout went well beyond the usual five rounds.

Lofgren made his biggest save of the season on Ludington’s eighth shootout attempt. He made a great diving stop to give the Rockets a dramatic 2-1 victory and the first boys district soccer championship in school history.

“Jake is a phenomenal goalkeeper,” Reeths-Puffer Coach Keith Knapp said moments after the game. “He has super reflexes. He’s that rare goalkeeper who loves (shootout) kicks. At some point I knew he was going to get a save.”

Knapp, a former goalie himself, realizes that Lofgren’s ability to keep calm under pressure is a huge advantage for the team.

“His composure really paid dividends last fall,” Knapp said. “Jake is a cool-headed guy who leads by example. He doesn’t let the emotions of the game affect him.”

Lofgren says much of his growth over the years in soccer can be attributed to Knapp, who has directed him through various challenges.

Lofgren looks upfield after making a save for Reeths-Puffer. Photo/Joe Lane

“If I make a mistake or there’s a weird situation that happens, Coach Knapp helps me make better decisions the next time, because he’s been there,” said Lofgren, who had two shutouts and a 1.67 goals against average this season, as of last week. “He’s also coached for a good number of years, and coached a lot of good goalies before me. Him having experience with the position has really helped.”

Lofgren has one natural advantage for a goalie – good height. He stands 6-foot-3, which is helpful on the many high shots that come flying his way.

But there’s more to Lofgren’s game that that, according to his coach.

“Jake has some natural physical features, but he also studies the game,” Knapp said. “He reads the game very quickly and knows the best tactical strategies.”

While many modern prep athletes choose to put all their energy into one sport, Lofgren prefers to branch out. When soccer season surrenders to winter, Lofgren turns his attention to the hardwood, where he is a key contributor on the Rockets’ basketball team.

Other than the fact that kicking the ball is a violation in basketball, Lofgren says the two sports are a lot alike.

“I think they are pretty similar in terms of the movement,” said Lofgren, who’s a captain on the soccer and basketball teams. “Rebounding, for me, is like going up and catching a cross. Leadership in both sports is pretty similar, as well.”

Lofgren is hoping to continue his soccer career when he enrolls in college in the fall, not only to remain  on the field, but to keep him excelling in the classroom, as well.

“I’ve always managed my life around school and sports,” said Lofgren, who remains undecided about where to attend college. “In college, I still want to be able to do that, and I still want to be able to play.

“I think soccer will help me be a better student in college. I think it will help me manage my time better. Eventually, one day, I won’t be playing soccer. It’s important to me to get a very good education, so I can succeed off the field.”