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WIAA Girls Soccer: Wildcats fall in state semifinal

River Falls teammates Mady Shew (18), Gina Filkins and Ellie Linehan (13) embrace after the Wildcats lost to Brookfield Central, 5-0, in a WIAA Division 2 Girls State Soccer Tournament semifinal game at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee Thursday, June 14. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia

River Falls girls' soccer coach Charles Conley kept saying the same thing after the fourth-seeded Wildcats lost to top-seed and defending Division 1 champs Brookfield Central, 5-0, in the WIAA Division 2 state semifinals Thursday, June 14, in Milwaukee.

“We couldn't be more proud,” he said. “The girls played their hearts out and played really well. They represented River Falls very, very well. So we're proud.”

The Wildcats, in their second state tourney appearance, entered the game as the underdog against the Lancers, who dropped down a division for the 2018 postseason after winning the Division 1 title in 2017. Brookfield Central and Catholic Memorial, the top seed in Division 3, are tied for the most state tournament appearances in history with 14.

Brookfield Central's Jenny Cape jumped on a free ball in the Wildcat zone and rocketed a left-footed rocket over Wildcat goalkeeper Kiera LaCroix's head and into the upper right corner 8 minutes, 31 seconds in before Emma Staszkiewicz scored ten minutes later to give the Lancers a 2-0 lead.

River Falls' best chance in the first half came when around the 30 minute mark whan senior Leanna Becker beat a Brookfield Central defender down the left side, cut towards the net and fired a shot from the edge of the penalty box that was blocked by another Lancer defender before it reached the net.

Staszkiewicz scored her second goal of the game 10 minutes into the second half off a scramble in front, the first of three Lancer goals in a span of 13 minutes, to make the final 5-0.

Despite the outcome, Conley and the Wildcats stood tall after the game.

“We couldn't be more proud,” Conley said. “This group, they represented River Falls extremely well. I don't think the score was indicative of how this game was played. Brookfield Central is a much better team, don't get me wrong, but I thought that we played them really well, other than when they got their three goals in the second half. I'm not going to say it was even, but the girls played much better than 5-0.”

Senior Gina Filkins said she was grateful to end her high school career at the state tournament.

“It was a pretty amazing experience, to be honest, especially being my senior year, to make it to state,” she said. “This has always been our main goal and we reached it. I don't want to say that we're satisfied, we definitely worked our hearts out out there. But just the energy, coming out here and warming up. We're a family and it was an amazing experience and I think it was a great way to end the season, at state here in Milwaukee.”

Conley said he has a special place in his heart for this year's seniors-- Filkins, LaCroix, Becker, Jacqueline Balsiger, Kaitlyn Levi and Autumn Gray.

“I love every group of seniors that comes through, but this group is something special” he said. “They're a special group. They had three attempts at the section final and finally the last one they broke through. You look at the way we ended the last half of the year; we rolled through the playoffs without giving up a goal. I mean these seniors are certainly the heart and soul of this team.”

Junior Sydney Debroux said the entire team wanted to play well for the seniors.

“It made us want to play super hard,” she said. “We just wanted to play our best for them.”

River Falls ended the season with a record of 12-3-2, including eight straight wins and seven straight shutouts leading up to the state tournament. Both Conley and Debroux believe they can be back next season.

“Now they know what it's like,” Conley said about the underclassmen, “They know the situation, and hopefully they understand what it's going to take in the offseason to get back here. We certainly have the skill. We graduate a ton of skill but we have a ton of skill coming back and a lot of young kids coming in. Right now there's a sour taste in our mouth, so hopefully this leaves us hungry.”

“We want to get back here and do better next year,” Debroux said. “Because we know that we can.”

Brookfield Central will face Oregon, 2-0 winners over New Berlin Eisenhower in Thursday's other semifinal, in the 2018 Division 2 state championship game Saturday, June 16, at 11 a.m.

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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