Life is pretty good right now for members of the Wausau East boys soccer team.
The Lumberjacks, who host Stevens Area Point Senior High today, are averaging roughly four goals a game, sitting atop the Wisconsin Valley Conference with a 3-0 conference mark and looking like a group that could be playing deep into the postseason.
“These guys have come a long way,” East coach Brian Buege said of his team. “A lot of these (seniors) were on varsity as sophomores, and they’ve grown. They’ve seen the guys ahead of them be good leaders, and they’ve grown into being good leaders as well. They’re great guys in terms of what they do academically and their character. Then they just have a lot of skill (on the field) at the same time. Hopefully we can continue rolling throughout the season.”
It’s the continuation of last season’s run to a WIAA Division 1 sectional championship game, and a sign of how far the program has come. Two years ago, the Lumberjacks suffered through a 5-15 season — including a 2-10 mark in the WVC — finishing just ahead of Merrill in the conference standings. Eight sophomores saw varsity playing time during that season, and those growing pains are paying off now.
“It helped us out a lot. That year we had six sophomore that started,” said East senior forward Jack McGinnity said. “It helped us learn how a varsity game works, and how our system at East works. It just helped us adjust to high school soccer a lot better.”
Added Buege: “Yeah we finished 5-15 that year, but the biggest thing was that the guys kept working and they got the bigger picture that we were trying to build something and it was part of the process. They never got down on each other, and we have just built off of that.”
East went 16-6 overall last season, and finished third in the WVC with an 8-4 mark. This Lumberjacks entered this season favored to win the program’s first conference title since 1994.
The role of the hunted is new for the Lumberjacks.
“It definitely motivates us. We come to practice every day knowing that we have to perform,” senior defender Peter Wilke said. “We know that everybody (in the conference) is going to give us their best and aiming to beat us. Two years ago we were at the bottom (of the WVC), and last year we really weren’t at the top, so its definitely a new experience.
“We expect that we should win,” Wilke added. “We feel it every day in practice and want to come out and perform. We want to use every practice to our advantage.”