Raider girls can't get past top seed in soccer playoffs
The fourth-seeded Raider girls soccer team ran into a buzz saw in the form of No. 1 seed D.C. Everest in their WIAA Division 1 regional final last Saturday in Wausau and dropped a 5-0 decision to the Evergreens to end the season with a record of 18-3-1.
The Raiders advanced to the regional final with a 2-1 double overtime victory over Wausau West last Thursday at the middle school field.
After a scoreless first half, the Warriors took a 1-0 lead about ten minutes after intermission. Hudson got the tying goal on a header by senior captain Alexa Haines with 19 minutes left in regulation before junior Kate Sanocki found the back of the net in the 94th minute to give the Raiders the win.
“Once again the character of this team shines through,” Hudson coach John Knutson said about the victory. “Some teams can't recover from being down a goal or two late in games. This team did what they've done all year; they battled and fought hardest when they needed to. Coming back from the 1-0 deficit was great, but getting the game winner in double overtime was really special.”
The Raiders had to work hard to beat the Warriors, despite outshooting them 40-3.
“Honestly, we were so much better offensively than Wausau West, but it concerns me when we cannot finish and put the ball in the net,” Knutson said. “The game winners aren't determined by shot counts, but by goals, and they not only held us to a 0-0 tie at half-time, they went up on us about ten minutes into the second half.”
Haines netted the tying goal when she went up high to redirect a corner kick off the foot of senior co-captain Lauren Berglund and headed it into the net.
After 80 minutes of regulation, and another ten minutes of overtime the score remained tied, forcing a second ten minute overtime. If the score was still tied after 100 minutes the outcome would have been determined in a shootout, but Sanocki took a ball from the midfield, dribbled to the top of the box and after an evasive maneuver around two Wausau West defenders, created enough space for a left footed shot that went up and over the Warrior goalkeepers hands and into the back of the net for the game-winning goal with six minutes to spare.
“I hate to say I wasn't worried, but I did know that this team had it in them to win,” Knutson said. “They've done it so many times before during the season.”
Saturday’s regional final in Wausau featured a 45-minute weather delay due to rain and lightning. But by that time D.C. Everest had already built a 5-0 lead and neither team scored again in the final 13 minutes.
“D.C. Everest is an exceptional team and they showed us today how much we need to improve if we want to advance into the sectionals of the WIAA State Tournament,” Knutson said. “They were physical, they were fast, they are talented when it comes to their ball skills and footwork. While we matched them for intensity and heart, you have to take your hat off and acknowledge that D.C. Everest was the better team today.”
The Raiders' best scoring opportunity came after Sanocki was taken down from behind inside the penalty box with Hudson trailing 1-0 early. But on the ensuing penalty kick Berglund’s shot sailed just over the crossbar to preserve the Evergreens’ lead.
Despite the season-ending loss, Knutson said his team can feel good about an exceptional season, which included wins over archrivals River Falls and Eau Claire Memorial on their way to a Big Rivers Conference championship.
“I could not be more proud of any group of players,” Knutson said. “We consistently ask this team; ‘What are you willing to give to get what you want?’ I think they understand a little better now that to get where we did required a lot of sacrifice.”
Knutson said the future of the program is bright with 10 juniors leading the group of returning players next season.
“The sophomores and freshmen coming up are terrific soccer players, so we will reload and I honestly think we will be just fine next year,” he said. “For now, we want to celebrate the accomplishments for this team this year and let it settle before we start planning for next year.”