By Andrew Johnson

NORTON SHORES – The Mona Shores girls soccer team had a historic season last year, posting a perfect 18-0 regular season and winning a school-record 21 games.

In the process the Sailors won the O-K Black Conference title and a Division 1 district championship, before falling to eventual state champion Forest Hills Northern in regionals.

For a lot of high school teams, that’s about as good as it gets.

Mona Shores’ Nora Brown crosses the ball from the left wing against East Kentwood on May 9. Photo:Eric Sturr

But the best may be yet to come for the Sailors, because a lot of the top players from the 2017 squad are back this year. Their goals are even loftier as spring break ends next week and they begin the busy part of the season.

“We’re super-excited,” said senior forward Sarah Mikesell, who already holds the school’s career scoring record. “A lot of people may want to say last season was a fluke, but we’re excited to show people that this is a program to be aware of, and that we’ve worked hard.”

So far the results have suggested that another big year is on the way.

The Sailors started the season with a 2-1 victory over Zeeland East. They followed that with a 5-1 win over West Ottawa.

Mona Shores will resume action with a non-conference game at home against Spring Lake on April 11.

Mikesell, who led the team in scoring last season, is again leading the way with four goals in the first two contests.

“I think the first two games we played were two different tales,” said second-year coach Dylan Darga. “We fell behind in the first game and I think it shocked us a big. We struggled to get going but ended up getting the win.

“We learned a lot from that first game, about what we’re going to have to do to be successful. In the second game the girls came out and worked real hard. That was one thing that changed from the first game, which woke the girls up a little bit.”

There’s a great deal of talent on the roster this year, starting with Mikesell, who rolled up a pretty incredible 40 goals last season.

Mona Shores’ keeper Megan Swanker makes the save with two East Kentwood Falcons bearing down on May 9. Photo.Eric Sturr

Another big scoring threat will be another senior forward, Peyton Erndteman, who has already committed to play at Alma College next season.

“She’s a phenomenal kid,” Darga said about Erndteman. “She really strives to be better every day, and she’s going to play a ton of minutes for us.  She was nagged by injuries last year. so she didn’t really get a chance to stand out much but she’s healthy now and ready to go.”

Another key senior for the Sailors will be defensemen Mallory Meston.

“She’s the key of our defensive unit,” Darga said. “She probably logged every minute last year, and she’s ready to play this year and looking good.”

The Sailors should be in good shape, even in games when they don’t score much, because senior goalkeeper Megan Swanker is back on duty. She set a new school record with 15 shutouts last season.

“She’s a super athletic kid and has really honed in on her skills while being a big-time gamer,” Darga said.  “She’s one of the few keepers we have in our program and she’s the start of our attack and last line of our defense.”

One other standout from last season, junior  Raegan Cox, remains a question mark, after tallying 29 goals and 30 assists in 2017. She has been out with an unspecified injury, and the team is not sure when she’ll be back, according to the coach.

“Anytime you lose numbers like that it’s obviously something that needs to be addressed,” Darga said about Cox, who broke the school’s single-season assist record last season. “I think the girls are ready to take that workload on, and so far they have. It’s a week-by-week thing. She’s got to worry about her health first.”

Even without Cox, the Sailors have more than enough talent to win a lot this season. But it takes more than talent to achieve the kind of goals that the team has in mind.

Mona Shores’ Erin Powers defends the attack from Fruitport’s Emily Winicki on May 16. Photo.Eric Sturr

Hard work and intensity are necessary, and those qualities are on display during competitive team practices, according to Darga.

“We create very competitive practices,” the coach said.”We have a winner and a loser in everything we do. We drive the girls to be better every day.”

Another key for the Sailors will be avoiding overconfidence, Darga said.

“It won’t be a cakewalk,” he said. “If we don’t put the work in, we won’t get the same results. Reeths-Puffer, Fruitport, and Jenison will all give us a hard time in the conference.”

MIkesell said she’s excited about the possibility of the team having an even bigger season – but she’s also very cautious.

“It would be awesome,” she said. “Going from losing in the first round in districts as a freshman, losing in the district finals as a sophomore, then and winning districts last year, it would mean a lot to end the way we want to.

“But I think we have made it a priority to not be overconfident. Anything can and will happen. Some games last year were touch and go, and just like last year, we have to refuse to lose.”