TOWN OF MENASHA
After battling injuries all year long, St. Mary Central will enter Friday’s WIAA Division 3 girls’ soccer state semifinal as healthy as it has been all season.
The Zephyrs (18-2-2) will need to be at their best when they take on highly regarded The Prairie School (14-6-2), champions of the Metro Classic Conference, at 11 a.m. at Milwaukee’s Uihlein Soccer Park.
“We’re all really excited about going to state,” junior forward Paige Krieck said. “We know a little bit about the team we’re going to be playing against. We got a lot of people back from injuries and we’re feeling pretty good.”
Both schools are making a habit of appearing at state. St. Mary Central is making its eighth trip to state in the past nine seasons, while the Hawks are making their fifth state appearance since 2003.
Its previous four times at state, The Prairie School has finished as state runner-up, while the Zephyrs brought back gold in 2007 and finished second in 2009.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries this season so we really didn’t know how this season was going to turn out,” junior forward Molly Britt said. “But we’re really thankful that the injuries have healed and we’re all getting ready to head on down to state.”
St. Mary Central coach Gary Kruger said he is proud of the way his team has responded to adversity.
“We still haven’t gotten everybody back,” Kruger said. “We’ve got a couple of kids still sitting over there. I don’t think we’ve played one game this year with what I projected to be the starting lineup. But the other kids have stepped into their roles and knuckled down and we’ve gotten some great minutes out of some people that we possibly didn’t expect it from.”
The Hawks and Zephyrs have a similar style of play, which also could make things interesting.
“Well, the battle is getting there,” Kruger said. “Once you make it to that point, all the teams you face are good, potentially the four best teams in the state. We know a little bit about Prairie School. They play a very similar style to what we do. In fact, people have said, ‘Coach, can you coach against your own system?’ It’s like looking in a mirror.”
Senior forward Kelly Conn, who leads the Zephyrs in scoring with 28 goals and 15 assists, isn’t fazed by the similar style.
“Coach says they are just like us, so we should play to beat ourselves,” Conn said with a laugh. “We just have to play like we’ve been playing and we should do fine.”
But while the teams are similar, St. Mary Central has three players with 23 or more goals in Conn, Britt (23 goals, 15 assists) and Krieck (24 goals, 12 assists), while the Hawks have just one, in Annabel Ware (26 goals, eight assists).
“We know they are pretty much like us,” Krieck said. “They have three strong forwards. They play a deep sweeper. It’ll be a tough match but we have good hopes.”
Senior midfielder Haley Thelen said the Zephyrs must match the Hawks’ physicality and start fast if they are to advance.
“We know they are very physical and like to play through the ball and we have to match their intensity,” Thelen said. “I expect to, hopefully, just come out with a win. We need to play a full game rather than just showing up in the second half, like we normally do.”
— Dan Kohn: 920-993-1000, ext. 305, or email@example.com; On Twitter @PCDanKohn