By Steve Hill

May 13, 2019

D.C. Everest, still undefeated in Wisconsin Valley Conference play, has a chance to virtually wrap up its sixth Wisconsin Valley Conference title in seven years and stake a strong claim to the No. 1 overall seed in a reconfigured 17-team soccer playoff sectional this week.

The Evergreens (14-1-1, 8-0-0 WVC) have their work cut out for them with road games at third-place WVC foe Marshfield on Tuesday and on Thursday at fourth-place Stevens Point, which is still the defending WVC champ for perhaps another week.

But at 4-4 in WVC play, the Panthers are probably not thinking about their very slim mathematical hope of tying for the league crown. Instead, they are focusing on peaking for the upcoming state playoffs, which will begin on May 25 with a play-in game for two teams in Sectional 1 of the state’s Division 1 playoffs.

Everest has a first-versus-second showdown looming at Wisconsin Rapids May 23, but could come close to making that a meaningless game, for league championship purposes, with two WVC wins this week

First things first: This week’s league games

Saturday’s playoff sectional seeding meetings will be held in Weston at 7 a.m. — before the day’s games at Everest’s eight-team invitational tournament. But before the Evergreens can think about seedings, they’ll need to get past two hungry teams that are heading into the playoffs with different outlooks, but the same goal of upsetting one of the state’s top big-school teams.

Everest was still sitting at No. 5 in the Division 1 poll on May 5, with the May 12 weekend poll still unreleased as of midnight on May 13.  Marshfield, which beat SPASH May 2 and tied second-place Wisconsin Rapids (8-3-2, 7-1-1 WVC), is putting together a run of games that will have it contending for a possible, but somewhat unlikely, No. 1 seed in its seven-team Division 2 regional.

A win over Everest will be a tall order and would strengthen Marshfield’s case, but Marshfield coach Steve Lindner said this weekend that his team has it in them.

Lindner said he’d characterize his team’s recent results as “quite strong” and his team “confident,” having improved several aspects of its play. But they’ll need more of that Tuesday, when they host the Evergreens at 5 p.m. at Griese Park.

“We will need to again play our best game next Tuesday when we host DCE,” Lindner said. “They will be heck of a challenge for us, but a great test as we wind down the season.

“We are not afraid of DCE but have enormous respect for the unit Lucas Kolross has assembled again this year.  They are so deep and we’ll need a top effort for sure against them.”

The Tigers are led by Nina Hashimoto, who at 21 points (10 goals, 1 assist) is fourth in WVC scoring.

Against SPASH on Thursday — a 7 p.m. game at the Portage County Youth Soccer complex — the Evergreens will face the league’s third-leading scorer, Abby Gemza (23 points, 10 goals, 3 assists), who went scoreless last week as SPASH got shut out by Rapids on Thursday and had a bye on Tuesday.

SPASH lost 5-2 to the Evergreens at Everest April 23, but the Evergreens gave up two quick goals despite a comfortable 3-0 lead in the second half and could have lost control of the game under different circumstances, Everest head coach Lucas Kollross said.

Everest had an easier time of it in an 8-2 win at home over Marshfield April 18, but Kollross said there are things his team wants to work on from both games.

“We allowed Nina to score two on us last time we played, and we gave up those goals to SPASH that almost let them back in it,” he said. “We want to prove our back end has gotten a lot better since then.”

It has, at least statistically. Only the WVC’s leading scorer, Abby Thompson of Wausau East, has scored since then, getting a first-half goal on April 29 in a 9-1 Everest rout. Since that game, Everest has scored 23 goals and allowed none against the three bottom teams in the seven-team league table.

It has also won three out of four weekend tournament games in May, outscoring its opponents 10-5 during those games.

Other league games Tuesday include Wausau West (1-8-0 WVC, tied for last) visiting East (3-4-1 WVC, fifth place) and Merrill (1-8-0 WVC) traveling to Stevens Point for a 7 p.m. contest.

In addition to the SPASH-Everest rivalry game Thursday, the league will see East visiting Marshfield at 5 p.m. and Merrill traveling to Rapids for a 7 p.m. contest.

New sectional format means SPASH likely to go on road for playoffs

The 2019 playoffs will feature a single 17-team sectional instead of two eight-team regional tournaments leading to a sectional championhip — the first time for that larger format for WVC teams since 2013. Kollross’ Everest team has a shot at the No. 1 sectional seed, but he thinks that at least four other teams — Hudson, Kimberly, Bay Port and Appleton North — will all make their claims to that spot as well.

Higher-seeded teams host the initial rounds of the sectional playoffs, meaning the top eight will be home for at least the first full round of play.  Everest is a shoo-in for a home game, while Rapids has an excellent shot but will need to overcome a solid bloc of eastern-Wisconsin coaches centered in the Fox Valley area.

The other 12 teams in the sectional include the WVC’s SPASH, Rapids and Wausau West; Big Rivers schools Eau Claire Memorial, Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire North and Superior; De Pere and Green Bay Preble of the Fox River Classic; and Neenah, Appleton West, and Appleton East of the Fox Valley Association.

Hudson (12-2-2 overall, 9-0-0 and first place, Big Rivers Conference) will stake its claim the No. 1 seed on a 1-0 win over Everest on May 4 — the only loss to date for the Evergreens. But Hudson also lost a 3-0 game on the same weekend to Kimberly, ranked fourth in Division 1 (just ahead of Everest).

Appleton North (11-3-2, 4-0-2 Fox Valley Association) and Kimberly (10-1-2, 4-0-2 FVA) tied 1-1 last week, but Everest defeated North 4-2 at the Everest invitational last weekend.

Bay Port (13-2-0, 5-1 Fox River Classic) is ranked No. 6 in the state and has defeated North 3-0, but lost to Kimberly 4-1, as well as to Sheboygan North in an FRC league game last week.

Hudson will face a dangerous game in a second Everest invitational this weekend, taking on SPASH at 5 p.m. Friday — a chance for SPASH to improve on its long-shot chance to slide into a top-eight seed in the sectional.

But SPASH would probably need other help as well, given that the five No. 1-seed contenders will almost certainly stay in the top eight before the sectional coaches’ seeding meeting on Saturday morning and there are several teams ahead of it with strong winning records, including conference mate Wisconsin Rapids. At 6-8-0 overall, SPASH has also dropped a game to De Pere, a 10-3-2 team which is a solid bet for one of the top eight seeds and could even finish in the top 5.

De Pere is also at the Everest tournament this weekend, and it will play possible sectional foe Wisconsin Rapids at 5 p.m. Friday in a game that will have plenty of implications for sectional seedings. But Rapids will need that win, especially after a season-opening 4-0 setback to Appleton East  (9-1-2, 4-0-2 FVA). As one of three leaders of the FVA heading into the week, East is also looking like a top-eight pick and a top-five possibility.

Preble is 12-3-2 (3-1-1 FRC) but won’t have the resume of other top contenders unless it pulls off a league win over Bay Port on Thursday. Still, it will contend for a top-8 spot.

Appleton West (8-4-1, 4-2 FVA) has a 2-2 tie with De Pere as its most impressive result and will likely fall somewhere in the range of an 10-12 seed.

Neenah (7-7-2, 2-3-1 FVA) will be among the teams fighting for a spot in the top dozen but more likely to end up in the upper teens of the seedings, along with SPASH and Eau Claire Memorial (8-5-1, 8-1-1 BRC).

Memorial could make noise with a good result against Division 3’s top-ranked school, Notre Dame, at the Everest tournament this weekend. That game will take place at 7 p.m. Friday.

Kollross said he regrets that three 9 a.m. games at the tournament Saturday — Everest against De Pere, Rapids against Memorial, and SPASH against Appleton West — are likely to be to late too be considered for the earlier seeding meeting.

Eau Claire North, Chippewa Falls, Wausau West and Superior will likely be the last four seeds, with Chippewa Falls (0-10 overall) the most likely play-in candidate against either Wausau West or Superior.