Soccer players all dressed in white gather in a huddle with the coach dressed in blue

New soccer coach: Veteran players anchor championship team

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Expectations were high for the Grand Valley women’s soccer team for the 2022 season. But every successful program expects pressure alongside trophies and accolades.

The 2021 and 2019 NCAA Division II national champions — there was not a 2020 national tournament due to the pandemic — returned a stable of top performers from last year’s team. 

The national consensus of the team confirmed the expectations. The United Soccer Coaches selected Grand Valley as its preseason No. 1 pick.

“There’s always going to be a target on our backs,” goalkeeper Kendall Robertson said. “We love it. We know that our preparations will keep us steady and in the direction we want to go. It’s about relying on the girl next to you.”

Robertson is one of the returning stars the team relies on to guide its newcomers and set the level of expectations that she and the rest of the Lakers are accustomed to. First-year head coach Katie Hultin said the squad has nine first-year students and three transfers. 

The soccer team runs out onto a green field, spectators watch from the stands in the background

“I think the constant is the veterans who come back to the team are always a solid anchor for us,” Robertson said. “No matter who we add as a coach, or who we add as freshmen or transfers coming in, the people who will stick with it are our anchors.”

The coaching staff is also new. Hultin joins the Lakers after four seasons as associate head coach at the University of Michigan, where her primary role was working on defensive strategy.

Hultin is the fifth head coach in the Lakers’ history, taking over for Jim Conlon who led the Lakers to the 2021 national championship and stepped aside for personal reasons. Conlon succeeded Jeff Hosler who led the Lakers to the 2019 national championship and is now head coach at Michigan State.

Assistant coach Mario Zuniga-Gill, who was on staff with Hultin at the University of Michigan, goalkeeper coach Sam Tracey and graduate assistant Taylor Timko, who was director of operations for U-M’s program, are all in their first year with the Lakers.

“Grand Valley has a great athletic culture and support as well as the dominance that it has experienced at Division II. I wanted to go to a place that wins championships,” Hultin said. 

Despite the national championships, the revolving coaching staff and dealing with the uncertainty of COVID created unease amongst the players, Robertson said. Hultin made an immediate impression. 

“Katie is an absolute dream and exactly what our program needed at this point,” Robertson said. “As a mentor she’s a really solid person to look up to. And she truly cares about us as players and as people. She’s a phenomenal coach.”

A blue circle with screened back photo of team inside, a white photo icon on the top

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