Dec. 5, 2009

By Carl Kotala
Special to
TAMPA, Fla. -
They’ve been part of the most successful senior class in the history of women’s soccer at Grand Valley State University.
And on Saturday, Natalja Stanski, Katie Johnson, Irie Dennis and Lauren King certainly went out in style. After three trips to the Final Four, the four seniors and their Lakers teammates claimed an NCAA Division II title with a 1-0 triumph over Cal State Dominguez Hills.
“I think it’s definitely nice to go out with a win,” Stanski, a defender, said. “It’s been a rough couple of years with emotional highs and lows, making it so far only to be disappointed when you lose.
“I’m torn. I’m upset that I’m never going to get to play again. But it’s nice to go out with a national championship and it’s definitely nice to do it with (the) girls I’ve played with for four years.”
In their four years, the seniors put together an 84-4-6 record.
“I’ve never been around a program that wins without good senior leadership,” Lakers coach Dave DiIanni said. “And that’s really how to sum this senior class up. They’re all different kids. All of them. They have different responsibilities, they’re different on the field and they’re different off the field. And they’ve all had different roles to lead this group.
“That’s why we’re sitting where we’re at. You have to have talent to win these games, but good senior leadership is what gets you over the hump.”
The seniors lived up to expectations on Saturday, particularly Dennis, a forward who drove the ball up the side of the field repeatedly and helped set up numerous scoring chances. Then there was Johnson who controlled the middle of the field and kept the Toros from getting in any kind of offensive flow.
“They were better defensively than I thought,” Cal State coach Joe Flanagan said. “I thought we were going to be able to break them down a little bit more, but their defensive center-mid (Johnson) won everything and really denied any kind of entry balls into our forwards. We couldn’t that ball to our forward’s feet.”
After going 19-2-1 in their freshmen year, the Lakers seniors then went 21-1-1, 22-1-0 and 22-0-4. That’s quite an accomplishment for a senior class that also includes defenders Amber Bloem and Caitlin Boyak. Johnson, Dennis, Stanski and King, a defender, have been with the program all four years.
“Halfway through the season, I didn’t know they had lost that few games,” Dilanni said. “It’s the first time they’ve won their last game in four years and I think that’s probably the most special thing, and unique as well. It’s been a great class. They’re obviously the cornerstone of our program. We lost a great class last year and this group has just led us through the year, all year.”
Dennis, for her part, couldn’t think of a better way to go out.
“It’s just an amazing high right now, to know that all the hard work and everything we put on through the four years, especially this team … we did what we set out to do. It’s just an amazing feeling.”
And even as they prepared to take the NCAA championship trophy back to Allendale, Mich., the four seniors and their teammates sounded as if they didn’t want it to end.
“When’s the next game?” asked junior goalkeeper Chelsea Parise.
“Is there a world championship, or something,” Stanski smiled. “I don’t want to be done.”