For the Waunakee girls’ soccer program, earning a spot at State was a huge achievement.
“Last year, losing in the Sectional Final was a good learning experience for us,” said Waunakee’s Head Coach Ben Voss. “Getting to the State Tournament, getting over that hump of seeing what it’s like to make it to the State Tournament, I think that’s great.”
The Warriors had goals higher than just making it to the tournament, though. In Waunakee’s first appearance at Uihlein Soccer Park since 2014, the top-seeded Warriors matched up with Muskego, battling all 90 minutes for the right to play one final game on Saturday for a State title.
Right off the bat, Waunakee knew they’d be at a disadvantage in the first half. The Warriors were forced to defend with a 15-20 mile per hour wind blowing in their faces.
“We knew we were going to defend [the wind]; They won the toss and they chose to take the wind in their favor,” said Voss. “We knew we were going to have to defend it, but we’ve done that before. We actually prefer defending the wind first when you’re fresh.”
Forced to keep the ball low to the ground as often as possible, Waunakee didn’t let the gale hold them back from getting pressure on Muskego’s goal early. The Warriors recorded the game’s first shot on goal 10 minutes into the game on a corner kick from Isabelle Barmore.
The corner was headed from Susie Kettner to Sarah McLaughlin before Muskego’s goalie managed to corral the ball.
Less than four minutes later, Muskego found their first opportunity for a goal on the other end of the field, and they took full advantage.
“The ball got slotted through backside, and then they slotted it back in,” said Voss of Muskego’s goal at the 13:45 mark. “We got caught off-guard a little bit.”
With the 1-0 advantage, Muskego did a great job using the wind to their advantage to keep the ball in front of them for the majority of the rest of the half. After 30 minutes of play, Muskego held a 3-1 advantage in shots, with much of the game being played on Waunakee’s end of the field.
The Warriors made a push late in the half, however, with three quality scoring chances in as many minutes.
McLaughlin led the burst with a one-on-one opportunity against a Muskego defender in the box at the 35-minute mark. A physical defensive play by Muskego forced the ball out of the box, though, and McLaughlin couldn’t muster a shot on goal. Waunakee was then able to attempt a pair of corner kicks within the next three minutes, but neither ended with a shot for the Warriors.
With the clock ticking away in the first half, neither side was unable to mount any more attacks on goal, and the game remained 1-0 heading into the half.
“Second half, we really thought coming into half down 1-0, it’s our turn,” Voss said.
It quickly became apparent that with the wind finally at their backs, Waunakee would rack up an abundance of scoring chances in the second half. In the first 15 minutes of the second half, the Warriors got shots from Josie Bono, McLaughlin, Barmore and Anne Dotzler, but none found the back of the net to make it a tie game.
With less than a half hour to play, the Warriors’ coaching staff was in the midst of discussing a change in strategy to score the equalizer when Waunakee was dealt a huge blow. In one of the few times during the second half when the ball was near Waunakee’s goal, Muskego capitalized again by sneaking the ball past Warrior goalie Alyssa Kuhn, giving them a two-goal lead.
“We were looking at making a tactical change being down 1-0. While our coaches were talking on the sidelines, Muskego scored that second, which was unfortunate because that threw us off a little bit,” added Voss. “We made the change anyways and went back out there.”
Playing with four center-mids, Waunakee was immediately effective at consistently winning battles for any ball Muskego sent downfield. Winning the possession battle with the wind at their backs, it was only a matter of time before the Warriors threatened Muskego’s goal.
At the 66-minute mark, Waunakee opened up a barrage on the Muskego goalie. Starting with a Barmore free kick, the Warriors recorded six shots – including two from McLaughlin – in five minutes, but none found the back of the net.
“We just all knew that we needed to get at least one to stay in the game…” said McLaughlin. “It’s hard because I know those are ones that I have finished this season.”
With less than 20 minutes to go, Muskego focused on slowing the game’s tempo by forcing the ball out of bounds as often as possible.
“We just never really got into a groove,” said Voss. “I don’t know how many throw-ins there were this game. It’s hard to get into a rhythm when it’s touch, touch, ball out of bounds.”
Things were looking bleak for the Warriors with just under 10 minutes to go and no goals to show for their efforts. Another corner kick from Barmore nearly resulted in their first goal of the game, but was punched away just in front of the goal by Muskego’s Brooke Dougherty – who isn’t the team’s goalie – resulting in a penalty kick for the Warriors on a handball.
“I was ready to go back in and finish it,” said McLaughlin. “But she had both of her arms up and it bumped her… Me and another player were deciding who was going to take [the penalty kick]. I wanted it.”
After setting the ball on the turf, McLaughlin aligned her shot and blasted a shot to the left side of the goal. The shot went past the Muskego goalie’s outstretched hands and into the net, breathing new life into the Warriors.
“Usually when I know I want it, it goes in,” McLaughlin added.
Still down 2-1 with nine and a half minutes to play, the Warriors had little time to score the equalizer. Muskego’s defenders were quick to clear any ball they got ahold of, limiting Waunakee’s opportunities as time was winding down.
Waunakee’s opportunities were limited to just two shots – one from Bono and another from Barmore – in the game’s final five minutes. Both were from well outside the box, and Muskego’s goalie saved both to preserve the 2-1 score as time expired.
“That’s the beauty of high school soccer… It’s a true players’ sport,” said Voss. “The girls have got to figure it out. Muskego capitalized on their chances today. For the first time in a long time, we didn’t, and that’s it. You go home.”
Waunakee had the advantage statistically everywhere but on the scoreboard. The Warriors outshot Muskego 15-3 in the second half and 16-7 overall, while racking up five corner kicks to Muskego’s one. Muskego was simply more effective at finishing their limited opportunities than the Warriors were.
“When you step into the arena and compete, you have to bring it,” Voss added. “If you don’t bring it and another team does – if they do a little bit more than you – they get rewarded for it.”
Muskego kept their momentum rolling on Saturday, defeating Divine Savior Holy Angels 2-1 to win the Division 1 State Title.
For Waunakee’s seniors, the loss is a tough end to a remarkable season that included the first Badger North Conference Championship since 2015 and appearance at State since 2014.
“Out of my four years playing for this team, this was the best that we’ve done,” said McLaughlin. “I’m happy to leave this way.”
“We’ve got a fantastic group of seniors that we’re saying goodbye to; we wish them nothing but the best,” added Voss. “We’ve got a lot of good kids coming back that got a good chance to experience this and hopefully build off of that for next year.”