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Girls soccer team exceeds expectations


June 14, 2018

MAZOMANIE — It’s the second week of June and school is out, graduation is complete. All of the students are beginning their summer vacations. Well, maybe not all the students.

You’ll still find the Wisconsin Heights/Barneveld girls soccer team on the high school field just off U.S. Route 14, practicing for the biggest game in program history. What’s different about finding the Vanguards here at this time of year is that they’ve never been practicing for a game this late into the season.

That’s because for the first time in school history, the WIAA Division 4 Vanguards are headed to Milwaukee to compete in the state soccer tournament.

WH/B earned its first trip to state after defeating Lake Country Lutheran/University Lake, 1-0, in a sectional final last Saturday.

The Vanguards earned the fourth seed in the four-team state field with a 12-4 overall record and will take on top-seeded Cedar Grove-Belgium in a state semifinal game at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee Friday at 11 a.m. The winner advances to the championship game Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

“I knew at the beginning of the year, three practices into the season ... I knew this was going to be the best girls team that Heights had ever had,” Vanguards coach Bartlett Holmes said. “The question was, we’re starting two freshman and two sophomores on defense and a handful of other sophomores, you just never know how youth will react when they get into big games. They’ve gotten more mature and more composed as the season has gone on. Each game we get through we see the mistakes, work on them as a team, just keep getting better every game.”

Senior captain Karlee Adler has been a leader for the youthful Vanguards and is thrilled to be headed to state.

“It’s shocking, but it’s amazing,” Adler said of heading to state. “We thought we were going to have a rough game in the sectional semifinal against Mayville, but when we beat them, we thought, ‘Now we have a chance. Let’s go do it’ and we did it. It’s great.”

Senior goalkeeper Destinee Schmidt has also been a key cog in the Vanguards’ success. Schmidt has played a role in six shutouts this season, including notching 14 saves in the sectional final shutout to send the Vanguards packing their bags for Milwaukee.

“It’s a pretty big thing getting to state, especially since it’s my senior year,” Schmidt said. “I didn’t think we were this good that we could break our high school history and go to state. It’s pretty awesome.”

After WH/B went 6-8-1 in 2017, it was hoping for better results in 2018. Heading into the season, the Vanguards had lost three seniors, but returned multiple letterwinners from a team that suffered a 9-0 loss in a regional final to Lake Country Lutheran/University Lake to end the year. A very strong defense, a balanced offense, an experienced roster, a shutdown goalie, and some extremely talented young players have all played key roles in leading the Vanguards to state in 2018.

“The whole senior leadership is incredible, with Karlee, Destinee, and (Samantha) Bollig,” Holmes said. “Bollig is an inspiration to the whole team. When she’s on the field she changes the game for us. She’s really physical and great at distributing the ball. Her and Karlee control our middle.”

Holmes also highlighted the young players that start for the Vanguards and have stepped up to make large contributions towards WH/B’s success this season.

“We have Isabelle Wright at outside-mid, the two freshman starting at defense for us in Kate Mitchell and Hannah King, two sophomores starting at defense in Ashlee Adler and (Sydney) Bonilla, sophomore Natalie Hering starting at outside-mid, and sophomores Kelsi Handel and Kassidy Frame starting at forward,” Holmes said. “It’s amazing because when we have a game where someone is struggling, someone else steps up. (Opposing teams) don’t know who our scorers are because anyone can step up any day.”

The Vanguards have played solid defense all year long, allowing just 14 goals on the season and never more than three in a game.

“When we play strong defense, it leads to really strong offense,” Holmes said. “We counter very well with our speed.”

After finishing third in the Southern Capitol Conference and sporting a 9-4-0 overall record during the regular season, the Vanguards have been dominant in the postseason. They have outscored opponents, 17-1, and posted three shutouts thus far in the playoffs. WH/B also ended a six-year run of state appearances for Lake Country Lutheran/University Lake in the sectional final.

“It was great beacuse (Lake Country) beat us last year,” said Adler, who scored the lone goal against Lake Country. “It was great to beat them. I loved it.”

The trip to state is a monumental achievement for the WH/B program. The Vanguards have won at least one playoff game five of the last nine seasons and have now gotten over the hump of making it to the big stage.

“Soccer has been a growing sport in the last five years,” Holmes said. “I just hope it continues to grow, both boys and girls, and we continue to turn out great teams. The success we’re having absolutely helps.”

The road doesn’t get any easier for the Vanguards though, as the four-team field is stacked in Division 4.

Cedar Grove-Belgium, Eau Claire Regis/Chippewa Falls McDonell Catholic and Kenosha St. Joseph round out the state field and are all making their first trips to the state tournament. Cedar Grove-Belgium and Kenosha St. Joseph were ranked fourth and seventh, respectively, to finish the regular season.

The top three seeds enter the tournament with a combined overall record of 45-9-2. In those contests, the three teams have allowed a combined 55 goals on the season for an average of 0.98 goals allowed per game. Those teams have also combined to score 246 goals, or 4.39 per game.

Cedar Grove-Belgium enters its game against WH/B with a 15-1-1 record and winners of nine straight. CG-B beat Oostburg, the No. 1 ranked team in the state, in its sectional final, and has allowed only six goals this season. It will be a test unlike any other the Vanguards have faced this year.

“It’s all going to come down to our defense keeping them out of the net and just creating transition opportunities for our offense,” Holmes said. “If our offense can capitalize, I think we’ll be pretty tough.”

Holmes said the Vanguards have a motto that they say after each practice and before each game: Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose.

“That’s how we’ve played this year,” Holmes said of the motto. “The girls come out, they know the game plan, and they are willing to outwork the other teams. It’s really paid off.”

Now for the Vanguards, it’s onward to Milwaukee with a state title on their mind. They’re ready to compete against the top competition in the state and wil try bringing home a championship.

Adler, Schmidt, and the rest of the Vanguards are a group of small school girls with some big time goals. And Adler had a message for the rest of the field as they prepare for their game on Friday.

“We can beat private schools,” Adler said with a smile. “They are our scariest competition because they always beat us in important games, but now we’re beating them this year. Public schools doing big things.”


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