By Andrew Johnson

MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Risers women’s soccer team has been up and running for several weeks, and local fans will get their first look at the squad in its very first season home opener this weekend.

The Risers will host Midwest FC United on Saturday at Kehren Stadium at Muskegon Catholic Central High School at 7 p.m. 

The Risers women had a game last year when they played an indoor exhibition at Mercy Health Arena. The women’s team joins two other teams under the Risers umbrella – the indoor men’s team, which plays in the winter, and the outdoor men’s team, which is the oldest of the three, but will not be active this summer.

That means the women’s team will have the stage to itself for the next few months as it introduces Muskegon fans to its version of Risers soccer.

The team is actually in the third week of its season. The Risers come into the home opener with an 0-2 record after losing two road games, 8-0 against Corktown AFC and 2-1 against Detroit City FC.

“Our first week was humbling,” said Risers associate head coach Debbie Pekel. “We have to understand the magnitude of our conference and the competition it has. It was good for us to realize quickly, and make a lot of progress into the second week. We’re hoping to keep that progression going forward.”

Muskegon’s Grace Filipiak battles for the ball. Photo/Leo Valdez

Muskegon is competing in the United Women’s Soccer League and will play in the Midwest North Conference, along with Corktown AFC, Midwest United FC, Detroit City FC and Lansing United.

At the end of the regular season, the top team from each of the seven conferences will advance to a national playoff tournament in July.

“I think for us right now, it’s understanding we’re in our first year,” said Pekel about the team’s goals for this season. “A lot of our focus is getting organized and being detail-oriented. We’ve got to make sure we’re prepared for tough competition and have an expectation to get results. We want to improve when we play teams again, and engage in the high-quality competitiveness of the league.”

In total, the Risers have a 10-game schedule this season, with the other home games scheduled for May 29 against Steel City, June 6 against Detroit City FC, June 12 against Lansing United and June 26 against Corktown AFC.

One of the key players for the Risers this season is team captain Aubree DeRoo, who was a part of the indoor women’s team that played the exhibition game last year.

“I’m very excited,” DeRoo said. “I don’t feel like I have pressure, but I’m trying to help establish the level of commitment we want for future teams. We want to establish an atmosphere that can build and grow.”

The anticipated atmosphere at Kehren Stadium is part of what helped attract DeRoo to the Risers. Muskegon soccer fans have turned out in big numbers, and have shown a lot of enthusiasm, for the men’s teams over the years.

“I hear that the atmosphere in Muskegon is unique,” said DeRoo, who graduated from Hudsonville Unity Christian High School and played at Central Michigan University. “I’m excited, because for the first time this season, we’ll have people supporting us and backing us up.”

The Risers are hopeful that goalkeeper Erika Gabriel will continue to make the type of  key saves she’s been making in the first two games.

Kiersen Korniek passes the ball across field for Muskegon. Photo/Leo Valdez

“She’s been a huge player for us,” said Pekel about Gabriel’s play in the first two weeks. “She’s dynamic in the fact that she keeps us in games. Without her to make really great saves, or to be a vocal leader, it would be a different team. She’s a huge player for us and we’re really privileged to have her with us.”

When the Risers are on the offensive attack, fans can expect Brenna Musser and Mackenzie Selvius to help lead the charge.

“Brenna played both games for us so far and she’s a workhorse,” Pekel said about the forward “She’s been really gritty up front and wins tackles while also holding the ball when needed.”

While the Risers have played a largely defensive style in their first two games, Pekel is hopeful that as the season plays on, the team will learn to attack more with a greater understanding of their opponents.

“We’ve played two very good teams with very skilled players,” Pekel said. “Our mindset was to be organized defensively and understand our roles. Now it’s more so, how can we get forward and attack? We’re making sure we’re tactically aware of what teams want to do.”