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Girls Soccer: Wildcats earn their overnighter

The Wildcat soccer team poses for a picture before boarding the bus to Milwaukee at a send-off at the high school Wednesday, June 13. The Cats will play Brookfield East in the semifinals of the WIAA State Tournament Thursday, June 14. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 3
River Falls' Ella Durocher (8) redirects a cross from Gina Filkins between two New Richmond defenders and into the net for the only goal of the game in the Wildcat's 1-0 win over the Tigers in a WIAA Division 2 sectional semifinal Thursday, June 7, in River Falls. The Cats went on to defeat Pulaski, 2-0, in the sectional championship game Saturday, June 9, to advance to the WIAA State Tournament for the first time since 2011. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 3
Wildcat freshman Lindsey Young (6) celebrates as teammate Leanna Becker trips over dejected Pulaski goalie Malorie Schultz after Young scored just 1 minute, 10 seconds into the match to give the Cat's a quick 1-0 lead in the WIAA sectional title game Saturday, June 9, in Marshfield. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 3 / 3

Not that the Wildcat girls soccer team needed any extra motivation to get to the state tournament this year, but they found some after their overnight trip to Brookfield was rained out May 11-12.

After the trip was cancelled, the players realized their only chance to spend a few nights bonding together in a hotel would be if they made it to the WIAA State Tournament beginning this Thursday, June 14. So what did they do? They went out and won eight straight games, including a 1-0 victory over New Richmond in a Division 2 sectional semifinal last Thursday, June 7, and a 2-0 win over Pulaski in the sectional title game two days later in Marshfield, to book their trip to Milwaukee.

“That's what we were saying before our last few games,” senior Leanna Becker said. “Do it for the overnight! Do it for the overnight!”

After outscoring their opponents 18-0 in their first two playoff games, the top-seeded Wildcats had to work quite a bit harder to get past No. 3 New Richmond in their third-straight home playoff game last Thursday.

Sophomore Ella Durocher got between two New Richmond defenders in the 38th minute to redirect a cross from senior captain Gina Filkins for the only goal of the game to give the Cats a berth in the sectional final against Pulaski two days later in Marshfield.

The Cats wasted little time jumping on the Red Raiders in the title game, scoring just 1 minute, 10 seconds in when Filkins' half-volley from just outside the box near the end line resulted in a scramble in front of the net that was eventually put home by freshman Lindsey Young.

“I think that was a game changer,” Filkins said about the early goal. “Coming out strong is what put us above them. It just gave us a rush of energy.”

Head coach Charles Conley said it was crucial to get off to a fast start.

“I definitely think it gave them more confidence,” he said. “They were pretty nervous, but we told the girls, jump on them in the first five minutes and think about what that'll do to their mentality. I think it gave them confidence to push on and push forward.”

River Falls kept pushing forward in the first half, outshooting the Red Raiders 9-2, but Pulaski goalkeeper Malorie Schultz stopped everything the Cat's threw at her, including a penalty kick by Mariah Marg in the 32nd minute, to keep it a one-goal game.

But just like the start of the game, the Wildcat's scored on their first shot of the second half when Filkins one-timed a pass from freshman Jaden Woiwode that hit the crossbar and bounced down and across the goal line at the 47:24 mark.

“I knew it went bar down at first, but I was a little nervous,” Filkins said about whether or not she realized it was a goal. “Then I saw it cross the line and I think we all knew that it was in and it was just super exciting. I loved it.”

Senior goalkeeper Kiera LaCroix stopped all five shots she faced to register the Wildcat's seventh straight shutout while River Falls outshot Pulaski 13-5 to advance to state.

“We had more opportunities,” Conley said. “But they had a pretty strong goalie, otherwise I think this game could have been a little less close.”

The victory avenged the Wildcat's 4-3 loss to the Red Raiders in the 2016 section final, the first of two straight state tournament appearances for Pulaski. Becker, a sophomore on that 2016 squad, said the Cats simply worked harder than the Red Raiders this time.

“I think it was just working hard from the beginning,” she said. “Instead of waiting for something to happen we just took it to them.”

Co-captain Jacqueline Balsiger, one of six seniors on this year's team along with Becker, Filkins, LaCroix, Kaitlyn Levi and Delaney Welke, pointed out she and her teammates missed 16 of their classmates graduation parties to play in Saturday's sectional championship game. But that was fine with her.

“All of ours are still coming up so we're not missing those,” she said. “Plus we haven't had our overnight yet so it will be exciting to do that at state.”

When asked what she loves most about this year's team, Becker just smiled and said, “everything.”

“Honestly, I've never had a team I loved so much because we all work so well together and we all get along and we all want the same thing,” she said.

Like this weekend's overnight trip to the state tournament in Milwaukee.

Cats open against defending D1 champs

The Wildcats (16-2-2) received the No. 4 seed for the state tournament and will face defending Division 1 state champion Brookfield Central (16-1-1), who dropped down to earn the No. 1 seed in Division 2 this year, in a WIAA state semifinal Thursday, June 14, at 11 a.m. at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee. Second-seeded New Berlin Eisenhower (18-2-1), and No. 3 Oregon (11-3-6) will meet in the other semifinal at 1:30 p.m. with the Division 2 state title game set for Saturday, June 16, at 11 a.m.

Conley compared the caliber of the teams in the state tournament field to Big Rivers Conference champion Eau Claire Memorial, who handed the Wildcats their only two losses of the season.

“We're going to see some competition similar to Memorial, if not better, so we've really got to be on top of our game,” he said. “We know nothing about these teams. At least Memorial we knew about so we could game plan. But we know nothing about these teams, so we're going to really have to be at our best.

“It's not beyond the realm of imagination that we could pull off an upset in the first round,” he added. “In one game, anything can happen, in soccer especially.”

Bob Burrows

Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.

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