EAST LANSING – Nick Archer sensed there were a few things his East Lansing soccer program took for granted in a start to the season that was slower than anticipated.
Continuity of play and identity were among the things the veteran Trojans coach noticed his team struggling with earlier this season.
Those things have been figured out by Division 2 No. 5-ranked East Lansing, which has been building momentum at the right time with the state tournament starting next week.
“I think we’ve grown more than we have the past three years actually,” East Lansing senior midfielder Zach Lane said. “We had a shaky start. It just seemed like we were missing something in the beginning. After our third loss, which was to Portage Northern, we had two games that day and we talked in between games and had a long conference in the locker room.
“That really got the team fired up seeing what we thought we needed to go on with the season. Ever since the game after that, we’ve just really picked it up. Our intensity has been a big thing and our heart I’d say has just changed dramatically.”
That’s aided the strong recent play for two-time defending Division 2 state champion East Lansing (15-3-1). The Trojans recently secured the outright CAAC Blue title with a win over Okemos in a matchup of unbeaten teams in league play. East Lansing also knocked off Division 3 No. 3-ranked Williamston last week to advance to face Blue rival Grand Ledge in the CAAC Gold Cup championship match Wednesday night at Holt.
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There also was a victory last month over Detroit Catholic Central, which at the time was unbeaten and the top-ranked team in Division 1 in the Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Association poll.
“Early on we played in some bigger games, but it was more like we stayed in the games and showed that we could play with bigger teams,” Lane said. “We just hadn’t beat any big teams. As our assistant coach said, in our smaller games we’ve been the big fish in the small pond, but when we’re coming in the big pond we hadn’t been the big fish yet. When we played Detroit Catholic Central, who was No. 1 in Division 1, that’s the biggest fish there was. We showed we were just as big as they were. I think we’ve shown that now we believe we can beat anyone.”
Archer has noticed the growth of his team and would like to see the Trojans continue that as they push for a third consecutive state championship.
“We’re not where we’d like to be, but we’ve certainly been improving and it has shown in some of the matches that we’ve had,” Archer said last week. “We’re moving in the right direction.
“That’s one of the things this (CAAC Gold Cup) tournament does. It really improves you for the state play and we are improving at the right time. We’d just like to keep that going.”
Contact Brian Calloway at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @brian_calloway.