By Steve Hill

May 21, 2019

Wisconsin Rapids — When D.C. Everest’s Maddie Simpson couldn’t head in a corner kick with just over a minute to play and her team down 2-1, the rain that had held off all night started to fall in reluctant drops, as if the weather had decided to get back to work after taking most of the night off to watch a classic soccer game.

About a minute later, Simpson schooled the weather on how to do its job.

The junior forward showed why she was a second-team all-state player last season, taking a crossing pass near the penalty arc from junior midfielder Alanna Schneck on the left. She then darted like lightning around defenders and across the left side of the box, thundering a left-footed shot back into the far corner with just seven seconds left and helping her team salvage a 2-2 tie and formally clinch the Wisconsin Valley Conference title.

“Every second counts, and the last few seconds, Alanna had a beautiful ball in,” Simpson said. “I have to give her the credit. If that ball isn’t there, I wouldn’t have gotten the goal.”

Among those left in awe of Simpson’s play was Rapids head coach Nate Cleveland, whose team played a more open style offensively from the outset, despite the chances it gave Everest and especially Simpson.

But that was a chance Cleveland said the Raiders needed to take and it worked perfectly, allowing Rapids to take the lead in the second half and then revert to its more traditional hard-nosed defensive focus.

“We knew that was a risk, and Maddie put home a bullet in the first half … but we wanted to keep it open and keep attacking,” Cleveland said. “We were really happy to get two goals on them and carry most of the momentum in the middle of the game.

“But they have a superstar who did some superstar-like things right at the end of the game.”

Everest is now 18-1-2 overall and 10-0-1 in the WVC.  At 31 points in the table, it is 5 points ahead of second-place Rapids (9-5-3, 8-1-2 WVC), with one conference game to play for each team.

Simpson had also scored her team’s first goal, foreshadowing her later effort with another left-side shot after some quick moves past defenders in the 28th minute. That made it 1-0, which held up until halftime as Everest showed better command of the offensive game, outshooting the Red Raiders 10-4 during the half.

“We do play two different styles, and tonight we knew we were going to have to get ready for the playoffs,” Cleveland said. “All season long we’ve been playing around with using both different styles, and in this game, there was no reason to come out conservative at all.”

Everest head coach Lucas Kollross wasn’t surprised, saying after the game, “We’ve seen that from them before. They play really well when they do open it up.”

The Raiders finally took advantage of their attack with goalie Miranda Nieman’s fourth score of the conference season and fifth overall.

Nieman, who had broken up one scoring opportunity for the Evergreens in the 51st and had a diving save of a Simpson shot in the 52nd, came up to take a long free kick after a 53rd-minute foul by Everest.  She lofted it in past Everest goalie Sonja Budleski, who appeared to move up for the arcing shot in a difficult, gusting wind and then backpedal before leaping unsuccesfully to keep the ball out.

Nieman ended up tallying 13 saves for the game, while Budleski had three.

Five minutes after Nieman’s score, Rapids junior midfielder Caroline Narel and freshman forward Dakota Mitchell found themselves on a fast break with Everest’s defenders too far up around midfield. Narel burst downfield and got off a shot from left of center that worked more like a pass, picked up by Mitchell and slotted in past a charging Budleski to make it 2-1 at the 58:06 mark.

The goal was first announced as unassisted and then as assisted by Narel, who herself was a little unsure of how it should be counted — except as the go-ahead score for her team. She said she didn’t fully see Mitchell, although she heard teammates shouting to her that she had a teammate onside.

“It was kind of instinct. I tried to shoot it, and it didn’t go where I wanted, but it was a great finish by Dakota,” Narel said.

With the surprising lead, Rapids then went back into its trademark pack-the-back defensive stance.  Everest didn’t panic and continued to substitute liberally. In the 71st minute, it did something only the Evergreens can do, sending in a raft full of six players at once, with five of them among the top 11 scorers in the conference.

That included a rested Simpson, who came into the game as the WVC’s leading scorer.  But Rapids didn’t break.

It barely even bent, not allowing even Simpson to get off a solid shot until the 83rd. After its 10 first-half shots, Everest was credited with only six in the second half — four of which came in the final seven minutes.

“If Rapids gets up, they’re going to pack it in, and we can’t let that happen. Unfortunately, it made us have to work pretty hard to seal the conference here tonight,” Kollross said.

“We just tried to keep our composure. We know we have some firepower. We switched to four forwards there at the end, and we just kept fighting, and Maddie made a play.

“That’s the Maddie we see in practice every day, and when she changes speed like she did there, she’s hard to beat.”