Oct. 27, 2009
By Larry Watts
They may not rank up there with Batman and Robin, but as far as the Michigan State women's soccer program is concerned, Lauren Hill and Laura Heyboer are a dynamic duo.
Heyboer was just the complement Hill needed when she arrived on the East Lansing campus as a freshman last year. For the past two seasons, Hill had provided most of the Spartan offense, leading her club with 18 points in each season.
But the Spartans were struggling in the Big Ten. They were 4-6 in Hill's freshman campaign and then fell to 1-8-1 the following season. Simply put, the 5-foot-3 Hill needed a wing man, or to be politically correct, a wing woman.
Enter Heyboer. The 5-6 dynamo from Hudsonville, Mich. brought a resume filled with accolades, including the state's two-time Gatorade Player of the Year (Hill won the award in 2006) and two-time Michigan Miss Soccer. She finished her career at Unity Christian as the state's all-time points leader (290) and was ranked second in goals (167) and assists (123). During her four seasons, her team posted a 107-1-1 record and won four state titles.
"She could have been this big, bad freshman who had scored all these goals and received all these awards, but she was actually very sweet and humble," says Hill, who now serves as a team captain. "I give her a lot of credit. She fit in right away and I was excited to have her play up top with me."
Like Hill, who is from Northville, Mich., Heyboer passed up offers from nearly all of the Big Ten schools to stay closer to home.
"It was the total package I was looking for," Heyboer says. "I love the family style here. The priorities here are family, academics and then soccer. That's very important to me."
But Heyboer admits to being a little concerned at how she would fit in with her running mate.
"When I first saw Lauren on my recruiting trips, to be honest, I was intimidated by her," she says. "I came to games and saw how hard she worked and she was very feisty. I knew didn't want to get on her bad side. But right away in the first week, everything was great and we jelled so well."
And it didn't take long for opponents to feel the wrath of the Spartans' dual threats. As Michigan State marched to a 14-7-3 record and NCAA Tournament berth, Heyboer led the Big Ten with 51 points (21 goals, 9 assists) and not only landed Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year honors, but she was also the lone unanimous first-team all-conference selection. Hill, who was a second-team All-Big Ten honoree, was the conference runner-up in points scored with 33 (12 goals, 9 assists).
"Surprisingly, it didn't take long for us to mesh," says Hill. "She (Heyboer) is pretty much the only forward I have played with where there is such a natural connection. I'll dummy a ball and know she will be on the other side. It works both ways. It's cool there is such a naturalness in our play."
"Lauren will do whatever she has to in order to get the ball, she's such a hard worker" Heyboer says. "I think we're forcing the defense to make some tough decisions. Do you play back or do you play us tight. If you play us tight, we're comfortable in knowing we have other options on our team."
This season the dynamic duo has picked up right where it left off. They rank fourth (Heyboer, 21) and fifth (Hill, 18) in points, trailing Minnesota's Katie Bethke (27). Unfortunately, Heyboer's latest goal, the game-winner against Minnesota (Oct. 25) will be her last for 2009 because she suffered a broken leg on the play.
An education major, Hill would like to teach high school English and coach soccer when she completes her student teaching in 2011. She has already gotten a taste of coaching the past two springs by helping out former Spartan Maureen Pawlak at nearby Laingsburg High School.
"If I could influence someone soccer-wise, I want to do it," she says. "Serving as an assistant helped me understand the different roles of your players. When I started here as a freshman, it was kind of hard to understand where your teammates are coming from. Each person has their own stresses with what's going on in their lives. Sometimes it's easier for the girls to say things to an assistant coach they normally wouldn't say to the head coach. This experience really helped me become a motivator."
Hill says she has taken her lessons learned as an assistant coach over to her role as a captain.
"It's a lot easier now to look from the outside in and see the big picture," she says. "Once you're inside that line, you can take some of the things with you that you observed from the outside. And it certainly helps understand the stresses the head coach is going through when it comes to playing time and other concerns of the players."
"It's amazing to see what I have accomplished so far and I will look back some day," she says, "but this is just a stepping stone to what I want to achieve. I want to take my game to the highest possible level, look back and say I did everything I could."
The kinesiology major would jump at the opportunity to play professional soccer and then eventually coach at the college level.
"Going through this whole process itself and seeing how much fun it has been for me and the coaches, I want to be part of that," she says. "I've helped coach a U13 team back home the past couple of summers and I really like that. I love soccer, watch it all the time and I can't picture myself without it."