Ethan Nichols, a team captain for the McFarland High School boys’ soccer team, slowly walked off the Uihlein Soccer Park field in Milwaukee holding the silver ball trophy given to the runner-up in the WIAA Division 3 state tournament. After reaching the sideline, he put the trophy on the ground and walked to the bench to console several of his heartbroken teammates.

That’s what team captains do: offer congratulations after victories and offer support and encouragement after losses.

But, this 2-1 loss to Shorewood in the Nov. 9 championship game was especially painful for the team’s 13 seniors, who knew – win or lose – this would be their final high school soccer game. They were hoping to be part of a state champion, but it just wasn’t meant to be for the Spartans, who outshot the Greyhounds 19-5 and led for the first 44 minutes of the game.

“It’s all just part of the game. It’s just the way the ball rolled today,” said midfielder Vince Seils after the game.

It was McFarland’s second straight trip to state. In 2018, the Spartans led Milwaukee Pius by a goal before the Popes scored three unanswered to win 3-1.

Like last season, the Spartans were leading 1-0 with 56 seconds before halftime. Then Shorewood made McFarland pay for some defensive miscues as Hopper Planey rolled a shot past goalie Matt Schutt to tie the match at the break.

McFarland head coach Brett Ogorzalek said the late first-half goal seemed to shift the momentum toward Shorewood.

“We thought we were going into halftime comfortable at 1-0 or more, but they scored and now we are fighting to get the lead again,” Ogorzalek said.

While the tying goal gave the Greyhounds some inspiration in the second half, the Spartans had several quality chances in the second half. In the opening six minutes, freshman fireplug Mason Brown had one shot saved by Shorewood goalie Ben Lichtenstein and another went high over the crossbar. A shot by Ian Loss flew wide of the net and then in the 70th minute, Ethan Nichols kicked one on goal but Lichtenstein grabbed it. After Jake Sampson was too high with his shot attempt and Ethan Nichols missed the mark in the 76th minute, there were no more shots on goal for the next 10 minutes.

That’s when Shorewood’s Liam Martin broke the tie after he uncorked a long high shot from 25 yards over Schutt’s head.

“That was a great shot and I don’t think (Schutt) had any chance of saving that,” Ogorzalek said. “That was an amazing shot that kid made.”

With less than four minutes to go, the Spartans fought to regain the lead as Jake Sampson had a shot blocked and an attempt by Zach Nichols with 90 seconds remaining was saved by Lichtenstein. As time ran out, some Spartan players laid on the ground in anguish while Shorewood celebrated their championship.

“We played as hard as we could and gave 100-percent effort,” Loss said. “It’s heartbreaking especially as a senior. We were here last year and couldn’t get the job done. I thought we would take of business this year, but that’s just the way soccer goes. The better team doesn’t always win.”

Ethan Nichols complimented the Greyhounds for holding back McFarland’s offense.

“It’s hard to play against a team that defends as well as they do,” he said. “You can only do so much. They were packing it in with five, six, seven defenders making it hard to get close to the goal.”

McFarland scored its first goal on a direct free kick with less than three minutes gone, as Shorewood committed a foul just outside the penalty box and Ethan Nichols pounded the ball past Lichtenstein from 20 yards. Nichols found the net despite having a wall of Shorewood defenders 10 yards in front of him.

“Right before I kicked it, the goalie went behind the wall and left the goal pretty much wide open,” he said. “I saw an opening, shot it and it went in.”

The goal fired up the Spartans, who pelted Lichtenstein with several shot attempts for the rest of the first half. Jackson Werwinski missed on two attempts with one hitting the post, and Loss, the Nichols brothers, Vince Seils and Brown staying active on the offensive end.

Schutt was credited with one save as Spartans defenders Werwinski, Loss, Brett Connor, Kobie Smith and Carter Mrowiec minimized the Greyhounds scoring chances. McFarland ended the season with a record of 17-3-4. Shorewood ended at 20-3-3.

McFarland’s graduating seniors include Loss, Ethan Nichols, Connor, Seils, Jack McGinn, Grant Newcomer, Jack Bartzen, Bryce Flemming, Erik Pagenkopf, Brandon Mendez-Maya, Max Binger, Tyler La Luzerne and goalie Austin Miller. Ethan Nichols said reaching the state tournament for the second year in a row was truly rewarding for him and other seniors.

“We’re just super glad to be here. Super proud of each other that we were able to make it to the state tournament two years in a row,” he said.

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