Senior leader

DeForest senior Mandy Fitzgerald was set to become a four-time all-conference selection this spring, but the COVID-19 pandemic ended the season.

All signs pointed to a potential magical season for the DeForest girls soccer team in 2020. The Norskies were coming off their first regional title since 2015 and were returning a talented senior group.

But, the Lady Norskies never got a chance to show what they could do, as the COVID-19 pandemic ended the season before it go started.

“It’s been difficult dealing with the loss of this spring,” DeForest coach Tim Esser said. “We not only had a very talented group coming back, but maybe the most dedicated group of seniors the program has ever had. In addition, we were going to be one of the most cohesive teams I’ve ever had. Last year’s seniors paved the way for us to take the next step from our 2019 regional championship.”

The Lady Norskies finished fourth in the Badger North Conference last year with a 3-3-1 record. Esser expected his team to take a big step forward in 2020.

“We fully expected to compete for a conference championship,” Esser said. “We believed our strong returning group and our offseason dedication was going to make us one of the teams to beat for a title. Ten years from now, we’re going to look back and say, ‘what if.”

DeForest finished 10-6-3 overall last season.

The Norskies defeated Tomah 7-0 to open the postseason last year. They then won a shootout 6-5 over Burlington to score their first regional title since 2015.

The Lady Norskies had their season come to an end with a 5-2 loss to Oregon in the sectional semifinals. The Panthers went on to win a WIAA Division 2 state title.

“Our performance last year was a success,” Esser said. “When you have strong leadership and all 18 players willing to accept their roles on the team, good things were bound to happen. We dealt with some early-season injuries but ended the season on a strong note. The penalty kick shootout was so rewarding because of the number of players who contributed in that victory. Individuals don’t win games, teams do.”

This year’s strong senior class included Emily BonoAnnno, Addy Conaway, Leah Doucette, Mandy Fitzgerald, Maren Grothaus, Anikke Grothaus, Brittany Lenz, Kaycee Meiners and Guadalupe Zaragoza.

“It is very difficult to find the words to describe this senior class,” Esser said. “This is truly a special group of players.”

Zaragoza was a first-team all-conference selection last season, while Fitzgerald was named honorable mention. Fitzgerald was a first-team pick as a freshman and sophomore but missed most of last season with an injury.

The lost season could have a big effect on DeForest’s underclassmen.

“Having a strong senior group was going to allow us to develop some of our younger players without overwhelming them,” Esser said. “Now the coaches will have to do a lot of work in the off-season to make sure these younger players are ready to go. The question will be, can we outwork the other area programs this offseason?”

The WIAA is allowing for a 30-day contact period for all spring sports teams this summer, but the Badger Conference will not be participating.

“We’re not allowed to use the 30-day contact period to play,” Esser said. “If the social distancing gets relaxed, we’ll get together and do what we do best, eat.”

With the lost season, the excitement level is already growing for next year.

“It has made us all appreciate how much we love being around each other working for a common goal,” Esser said.

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