By Andrew Johnson
MUSKEGON – History is set to be made on Saturday at Mercy Health Arena when the Muskegon Risers take the field.
The team’s inaugural game will be a scrimmage against the Muskegon Community College women’s squad. Game time is set for 7:15 p.m.
The indoor game will be a unique experience for the women Risers, at least for now. They will play an outdoor season this summer as part of the United Women’s Soccer League, with five home games and five away games. The men’s team will also continue to play a summer outdoor schedule.
The players on the Risers roster are Emily Ponstein, Aubree DeRoo, Gabby Klemp, Jayne Vredevoogd, Abby Frankhouse, Shelby Baxter, Brenna Musser, Bree Probst, Rebekah Cotton, Arika Hoffman, Samantha Osterhaven, Delaney Chalker, Anika Huizinga, Alexis Ponstein, Trenda Loss and Lauren Deshane.
“It’s definitely going to be nerve-wracking,” said Vredevoogd, who is currently a freshman soccer player at Aquinas College, and will play for the Risers as a defenseman. “But I’m really excited and it’s really cool to be on this team.”
Vredevoogd remembers going to soccer games when she was little, and how she’d be a “little buddy” joining players as they took the field. On Saturday, her experience will come full circle when she brings a “little buddy” on the field with her before the Risers’ game.
“I remember it was the coolest thing ever,” said Vredevoogd about taking the field as a child with players. “It’s just weird being on the other side of that spectrum now. I just want to be that positive role model, and have them know that the pathway is there.”
The Risers will be coached by Chris Denham, who has coached at the junior and college level, including Davenport University, over the last three seasons.
“I actually got a text from Matt,” said Denham about how he wound up getting the Risers coaching job when she was contacted by Risers owner Matt Schmitt. “He asked if I’d be interested in meeting up. Just seeing his vision and what he’s done with the men’s program, it was a
no-brainer to kind of jump in.”
Denham admits his players have started to realize just what a big deal the showcase will be on Saturday.
“We had a couple girls get interviewed after practice recently and it was cool,” the coach said. “They’re starting to sense the platform and that they’re kind of pushing the women’s game forward. They’re realizing that younger girls are going to be seeing them out there and looking at them as role models.”
No matter the result on Saturday, a positive environment showcasing women soccer talent is expected.
“It’s going to be very special,” said Risers head coach Chris Denham about what fans can expect. “I think just for the whole Muskegon community, whether we win, lose or draw, the arena will be buzzing. It’s very special and unique.”