Memorial shows its skill
The Bluejay soccer team entered regional play fresh off its best win of the season-a 2-1 last-second triumph over Wausau West that had given Merrill its first Valley win in five years.
And as a 16-seed playing at #1 Eau Claire Memorial last Tuesday, the Jays had to be happy with a 1-1 start until the 16th minute. But the Old Abes, 12-0 conference champs of the Big Rivers and sporting an 19-2-1 record overall that has them ranked 9th in state, would notch five more goals before halftime. A 5-1 lead in the second half propelled Memorial to an 11-2 triumph.
“I was actually fairly impressed with out team,” MHS coach Chris Behrens said. “We were playing the ninth-ranked team in the state and after even 15 minutes we had the game tied. We put up a good fight against them. We were able to score two goals against them, which is great.
“They were so solid being able to possess the ball and work it through our defense. Some of their goals were outstanding. Most of their guys are upperclassmen and they’ve been trained well. That’s a squad we want to be for the couple of years. It was a good learning experience to face a squad like that. Some of our guys picked up how they can improve our play.”
Austin Hass tied it at 1-1 with an unassisted goal in the 11th minute, one minute after Memorial’s opening goal.
But the Old Abes would rip off six consecutive goals for a 7-1 lead before Hass converted a David Pophal pass in the 74th minute of the contest. Memorial would tack on four more goals in the game’s final five minutes, including two in the last two minutes.
The Old Abes out-shot Merrill 35-3. Nathan Beyer made 11 saves for the Bluejays, while Eau Claire’s Lucas Printz had none.
Twelve different players figured in E.C.M. scoring, led by Adam Nijhawan (2 g, 2 a) and Scott Nicolai (22 g, 1 a). The attacking Old Abes were flagged for offsides 10 times.
The Jays will graduate seniors Hass, Paul Theorin, Bryce Litschauer, Cole Boyd, Alex Wallace and Ross Bezier.
“This year was a great stepping stone for years to come,” Behrens said. “We started to prove to our conference and other teams that we’re going to compete.
“I’m actually very excited for next year. We’ll have core group of juniors back and some sophomores and freshmen that are looking very good to step into roles where we have seniors. Our defense will look pretty solid with Dalton (Wilding), Carl (Noland) and Matt Ladewig back. We’ll have more time to work with (goalkeeper) Nathan (Beyer).
“Our midfield and offense is looking fairly well with Logan (Brunett), David (Pophal) and Kriss (Philipp) back. We’ll be looking for another forward or attacking midfielder.”