Dream season dies for soccer Cards

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Emily Raisleger and Middleton’s girls soccer team fell to Waunakee in the sectional finals last Saturday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

WALES — Taylor Rough and Anna Mintz stood at midfield, hugging each other and refusing to let go.

Hailey Kowalski lifted her shirt over her face, almost to hide the tears.

And McKenzie Zocher — a gritty, gutty senior who’s torn both ACL’s during her standout prep career — battled through tears to deliver the final message of Middleton’s 2019 girls soccer season.

“We were a family, like as family as family can get,” Zocher said. “And like for me, this was my best season playing soccer ever. I’ve had multiple injuries and this is my first year not getting an injury. And I told this team after the game that this was the best season I’ve ever had.”

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, it came to an end last Saturday night.

Middleton allowed its second-most goals of the year, narrowly missed on several second half scoring opportunities, and fell to Waunakee, 3-2, in a WIAA Division 1 sectional final played at Kettle Moraine High School.

Middleton, the No. 2 seed in the sectional, ended the year 10-4-4. The Cardinals, who were trying to reach the state tournament for the first time since 2013, suffered just two losses in the state this year — both to Waunakee.

The top-seeded Warriors improved to 18-2-2 and reached the state tournament for the third time in school history. Waunakee is now the No. 1 seed at this weekend’s state tournament.

“Obviously I love this sport, but I play for my teammates,” Middleton senior defender Emily Raisleger said. “I think this year specifically, coming to practice every day, coming to my team, it made everything else that I had going on in my life kind of go away.

“And my coaches too, they’re more like family than anything. There was just something different about this year. It was just a great season. I’m going to miss it.”

Waunakee entered the game averaging 3.19 goals per game and immediately displayed its offensive prowess. In the fifth minute, Warriors freshman Lexis Savola scored on an assist from senior forward Maddie Farnsworth to give Waunakee a 1-0 lead. That was the first goal the Cardinals allowed this postseason.

In the 17th minute, though, Middleton junior forward Kendall Roquet sent a blast from 25 yards out that curled into the left corner of the net to tie the game, 1-1.

“I think that was meant to be a cross,” Middleton coach Mary Duffy said of Roquet’s goal. “I think it was a cross for a goal. And we talked about that, too. Like, we don’t care how you put the ball in the back of the net, just put it there.”

The Warriors went back ahead, 2-1, in the 29th minute when Farnsworth — a Butler recruit — had a remarkable goal. Farnsworth dribbled roughly 60 yards through the teeth of Middleton’s defense, came to the top of the box and beat Cardinals’ keeper Emelie Gehrke.

“There’s not many people that can do that,” Duffy said. “Farnsworth’s got some speed.”

Added Raisleger: “She’s an amazing player and an amazing dribbler. We struggled with her in that first half.”

Middleton came out with far greater passion and energy in the second half, though, and had several chances to score.

Sophomore midfielder Victoria Bunz sent a blast on goal in the 49th minute that Warriors’ keeper Alyssa Kuhn made a diving save on. Junior midfielder Tyler Wilson got a good look in the 54th minute, then Bunz split a pair of defenders in the 55th minute and got a clean look, but fired high.

“We dominated the second half,” Duffy said. “I would say the whole second half, if I was Waunakee and watching the game I’d be very nervous.”

In the 72nd minute, Zocher sent a blast just left of the goal. And in the 73rd minute, Zocher rifled another shot on goal, but Kuhn made another diving save.

“We had a lot of energy,” Zocher said. “Everyone was yelling on the sidelines and cheering each other on. Our hearts were racing. We just went all out and I had the ball and I felt the shot. It was just unlucky that it didn't go in.

“We took the shots that we had and worked our butts off in the second half and just put it out on the field. And I think that we did all that we could.”

The game of soccer can be cruel, though. And even though the Cardinals dominated the second half, it was Waunakee that scored in the 78th minute when senior forward Sarah McLaughlin converted one of the Warriors’ few good second half chances for a 3-1 lead.

“I definitely feel like it was a game where we could have put a lot more away,” Raisleger said. “And it was very frustrating knowing you could have gone farther, you could have gone that extra mile, you could have gone to state.”

Middleton had a brief moment of hope when senior defender Caitlynn Owens rifled a shot past Kuhn from 18 yards out to trim the Cardinals’ deficit to 3-2 at the 86:35 mark.

“There was hope for a couple of minutes,” Owens said. “I realized I was wide open at the top of the 18, right in front of the goal and I got a good volley into the top corner. I knew what I had to do for my team. I had to do it. It gave us at least some hope.”

Middleton tried valiantly to get the equalizer in the final 3-plus minutes. But the Cardinals couldn’t convert, and just like that, a memorable season came to an end.

“It was a great group. Strong senior captains, strong seniors,” Duffy said. “We talked about knowing your role and stepping up and taking care of the moments. It’s just not always going to bounce your way.”

Owens agreed.

“Playing with my best friends, the seniors, it was great,” she said. “We’ve been playing together for a long time, but this was our best year. It’s too bad it had to end here.”

 

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