MILWAUKEE — De Pere girls soccer coach Trisha Rhodes wanted her team to leave Uihlein Soccer Park knowing what it felt like to be state champions.
That feeling will have to wait another year after the Redbirds’ 1-0 loss to Madison West in the WIAA Division 1 championship match on Saturday afternoon.
A young Redbirds team that wasn’t expected to be here when the season first started went head-to-head all game against a Madison West team that won its fifth state championship in 11 trips to state and finished the season 19-7-2.
In the end, a goal from Regents reserve Rose Brown in the 49th minute proved to be the difference.
“We were definitely coming out to win,” said senior defender Lauren Splittgerber, who along with Frankie Janssen were the only two seniors for De Pere. “They came out hard, we came out hard. One goal happened. There is really nothing you can do about it.”
De Pere never did look intimidated despite a roster that has nine freshmen and four sophomores. This game was billed as a defensive battle, and neither unit disappointed.
The Redbirds outshot the Regents 10-9, with both goalies coming up with big stops throughout.
De Pere (21-5-3) got an early scare after junior goalkeeper Megan Lindstrom feared she had torn a knee ligament just a few minutes in and was helped to the sideline.
Lindstrom had played every minute for the Redbirds this season, but backup Demi Edwards came in and helped De Pere survive for just more than 7 minutes until Lindstrom returned.
But the Redbirds just couldn’t get one past Regents goalie Meredith Thompson, who made eight saves in posting Madison West’s eighth shutout of the season.
The Redbirds lost for the first time in 15 games, and the goal scored against them was only the third during that time.
“It’s a tale of two defensively strong teams,” Rhodes said. “When you look at the tournament and who they played and who we played, I think we were both underdogs coming in winning some games that people wouldn’t have expected us to win.
“It was really our defenses that hung on. We would get a goal, and we’d hold it. Both teams would do that. You came in with two strong defenses, and it was really who put the ball in the back of the net.”
It just happened to be Madison West on this day, leaving the Redbirds as the state runner-up for the second time in program history. It also lost in the 2007 championship match.
De Pere came close to ending the long-awaited championship drought of area girls soccer teams.
Since the tournament started in 1983, no area team has won a title in any division. Green Bay Notre Dame has finished runner-up three times in Division 2, followed by De Pere’s two losses in Division 1.
There have been 20 appearances by area teams at state, but none has resulted in a championship.
“A lucky bounce,” Rhodes said when asked how an area team can win a title. “I think it’s just going to take that it’s your day on your day. Today wasn’t ours.”
For a coach like Rhodes who has been seeking a state championship for more than a decade now, she had to remind herself what her father, Dale, would tell her after a loss just like this.
“He will tell me to reflect on the good things we did, and be happy for the team,” she said. “But I’d like to win it for the team, not myself. It’s for the team and those girls. I look at those two seniors, those captains, and I want to see the exuberance (like Madison West).
“I want that for my girls. The day we get it, and we will, will be a good day.”