By Steve Hill
May 6, 2019
With just over half of Wisconsin Valley Conference play completed for six of seven league teams, the league now looks like a two-team race headed toward a final-week showdown.
Only state-ranked D.C. Everest, which suffered its first loss of the season in non-conference action on Saturday, has played fewer than seven of 12 scheduled league games. At 6-0 and 18 points in WVC play, the Evergreens appear to have the inside track to the league title, along with second-place Wisconsin Rapids (6-1, 18 points).
But both still must play last year’s champ, Stevens Point, on the road — and the Panthers are itching to play spoiler after dropping three of their first seven league games. Rapids will travel to archrival Point for a 7 p.m. game Thursday, while Everest visits SPASH May 16.
Depending on the ability of SPASH, or some other conference team, to throw a wrench in the works, Everest and Rapids could decide the title on May 21 in Rapids.
Big week for Rapids
But before Rapids can get to either of those contests, the Red Raiders must take on a dangerous Marshfield squad, which pulled off a mild 2-1 upset of SPASH on Thursday in Marshfield.
The game gets underway at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Washington Elementary in Rapids.
Marshfield features a dangerous attack centered around all-league midfielder Nina Hashimoto, who has nine goals and an assist (19 points, fourth in WVC play). When she’s not scoring, her young teammates Sophia Gruenling, a freshman, and Kate Schilling, a sophomore, are dangerous wing players for opponents.
“Everything runs through Nina, but it’s not just give it to her and have her do stuff. Nina is an excellent distributor,” said Rapids coach Nate Cleveland. “She’s very smooth — excellent with her passes and her through balls.
“I think she works quite well with Schilling over on the wing. They transition fast; they really are a counter team.”
Cleveland said he wasn’t surprised to see Marshfield end up with a result against SPASH on the smaller field at Griese Park and says he’s glad his team is at home after it struggled a bit in a 2-1 win at Griese in April.
Against SPASH, Rapids will need a big game from its defense, which is tied with Everest for the league lead in fewest goals allowed, giving up only five in its seven WVC games — albeit in one more game than the Evergreens.
Although SPASH has several offensive threats, the most dangerous is senior Abby Gemza, who plays all over but has primarily been a midfielder and occasional back-line player for the Panthers. With 10 goals and 3 assists (23 points) through seven games, she is just ahead of Wausau East sophomore Abby Thompson (9 goals, 4 assists, 22 points through seven games).
Rapids has last year’s first-team all-conference goalie, Miranda Nieman, who is making a case for bigger honors this year. She leads the league in save percentage at .857, and she’s also scored two goals of her own, including a stellar free kick to beat SPASH 1-0 in Rapids on April 16.
That kick probably still smarts for the Panthers, as does their Thursday loss to Marshfield.
“I’m expecting just a very tough game,” Cleveland said Monday. “If I understand right, I don’t think they were in action this weekend and have a bye tomorrow. That’s a lot of time to sit around and think about a loss, which always makes a team dangerous.”
On top of that, Cleveland said, he’s sure they’re thinking about avenging the April 16 loss.
“That’s a lot of emotion and a lot of time for them to right the ship, to practice and heal,” he said. “We fully expect to come across a reinvigorated SPASH.
“Plus it’s just SPASH-Rapids.”
Hudson stops Evergreens streak
Everest handled perennial Big Rivers Conference power Eau Claire Memorial in a 3-1 tournament game Friday, but the next day let down its guard a bit against the team that now appears to be the odds-on favorite to win the BRC this year.
Hudson’s Ella Young got an 87th-minute goal to hand the Evergreens their first loss of the year. Although Everest, now 10-1-1 overall, did struggle with depth issues in its back line after a couple of injuries on Friday, the bigger issue was keeping its composure after missing early chances, head coach Lucas Kollross said.
“We had a ton of opportunities; we just didn’t put them in. When they don’t fall, momentum can swing in a hurry,” Kollross said. “They frustrated us in a lot of ways.”
One good aspect of the game, Kollross said, was Everest playing relatively well after switching in the second half from its normal 4-3-3 formation to a 4-4-2 lineup to help the Evergreens’ defensive effort.
It was the first time this year the team has done so, he said, adding, “If anything, it showed that we can be versatile.”
Hudson, which came into the game averaging just over 5.9 goals a game, is now 11-2 and 8-0 in the BRC, ahead of second-place River Falls, which is 6-1-1. Hudson’s win will be critical in playoff seeding meetings later this month for the 17-team Division 1 sectional in which the WVC’s large schools play.
Kollross, whose team was ranked No. 5 in Division 1 going into the weekend, said he thinks Hudson is a Top 10-caliber team and voted them as such for this week’s poll, which had not yet been released as of the end of Monday. Hudson’s two losses were to No. 4 Kimberly (which beat them 3-0 Friday) and No. 7 Middleton.
The Evergreens also will get more chances against top D-1 talent this weekend, hosting Madison West and Appleton North in the D.C. Everest Invite. Those are two teams hovering just outside the top 10, said Kollross, president of the Wisconsin Soccer Coaches Association, which conducts the weekly poll.
West is contending for a league title in the particularly competitive, Madison-area Big Eight, which features Middleton, previously ranked Sun Prairie, and a tough Janesville Craig squad. Craig currently leads the league, but lost an early-season game to Everest, 2-0.
Appleton North (9-2-1 overall) is battling Kimberly (9-1) for control of the Fox Valley Association, and the two will meet Thursday at North to see which team might head into the weekend with the lead in that league.
Everest hosts Wausau East (3-3-1, 10 points WVC, tied for 4th with Marshfield) at 7 p.m. Tuesday, then travels to last-place Wausau West (0-7 WVC) for a 5 p.m. Thursday game.
Other WVC games this week
West visits sixth-place Merrill (1-6, 3 pts) at 7 p.m. Tuesday, then has a bye on Thursday. Merrill will visit Marshfield for a 5 p.m. game Thursday.