MUSKEGON — It might seem a bit paradoxical, but what fired Reeths-Puffer coach Kody Harrell up most about Friday night's 1-0 triumph over local rival North Muskegon was that he felt like his team didn't play very well.
"A win like this, no matter when it is, but especially early in the year, is really good for your confidence, because we did not play good at all," Harrell said. "Not taking anything away from North Muskegon, but we played 10 times better on Wednesday (in a loss) against East Grand Rapids. That's why I told the girls, that's that big win mentality. Good teams find a way to win when they're playing bad. We didn't play very good, but we had good moments."
Many of those good moments came early, as the Rockets (1-1) came out firing. The only goal of the game came less than nine minutes in, as Sophia Hekkema took a nice centering pass from Taeah Rensberger and fired it into the net. R-P continued to push in the first half and held a 7-2 edge in shots on goal as halftime arrived, including a Brooke Bradley shot that glanced off the crossbar.
"We got (that edge) because we were doing what we do best," Harrell said. "We were getting our speedsters in space. We were getting our strong technical players high up the middle and we could run off them."
In the second half, things changed. Trying to protect the lead, Harrell employed a shadow on Norse star Natalie Pannucci while keeping four defenders back. The coach appreciated the opportunity to test out a strategy he might have to use again in the postseason.
"We honestly did it because we respected Natalie and because we respected what they could do, but we also did it as an experiment because we know there's going to be a really good player on Spring Lake or if we can get out of districts, there's going to be a really good player on a Forest Hills Central, a Forest Hills Northern, a Grand Rapids Christian, that we'll have to do something similar like that with," Harrell said.
The result was more scoring chances for North Muskegon, but keeper Ava Klopp was equal to the task, making several solid saves.
Klopp is the full-time keeper now after sharing the position with now-graduated Tessa Lamphere last season. Harrell has been impressed with her work.
"The thing I love about her is her contagious positive attitude," Harrell said. "You've got to have that in a goalie. She communicates very well too. She keeps everyone organized in front of her in addition to her big shot-stopping abilities."
The rest of the field saw several collisions between Rockets and Norse. The Norse are well-known for their physical style of play, and Hekkema in particular was more than happy to exchange bumps with the ladies in yellow.
"It's not that she sees that logo and she's gonna roll her sleeves up that much more," Harrell said. "That's just her style. She's a college athlete, whatever she decides to do. She'll be great in life on and off the field...That's just her playing style. It's nothing personal with the opponent. She'll play that way with Jenison (in our next game), and we've got no history with Jenison."
Hopes are high at R-P, and nothing the Rockets have done in their first two games have deterred them from believing in what they can do in 2023.
"I'm just really excited for our group," Harrell said. "We've got a great dose of quantity and quality throughout our roster, so I'm really excited to see what we can do this season."