De Pere girls soccer coach Andy Steger said before the season that his Redbirds would do the same during his first season as they did during former coach Trisha Rhodes’ successful tenure. How they would go about doing it, he added, would just be a little different.
Either way, the results have stayed the same.
The Redbirds are back at the WIAA Division 1 state tournament for the second straight season and the fifth time since 2006.
They will play Kenosha Tremper in a quarterfinal game at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee one season after reaching the title game for the second time in program history and the first since 2007.
The Redbirds could have a chance to bring home some hardware again thanks to a defense that Steger believes is one of the best in the state.
De Pere had one of the top defenders in the 12-team Fox River Classic Conference in senior Maddie Miller and the best goalie in fellow senior Megan Lindstrom.
Lindstrom and the Redbirds posted 15 shutouts in 24 games and allowed just one goal in six other contests. They had six shutouts to end the season and another one to start the D1 tournament in an 8-0 regional win over Manitowoc.
De Pere also beat No. 1 seed Kimberly in a sectional championship shootout on Saturday after playing 100 minutes of scoreless soccer.
“We feel very confident that we can keep even some of the best teams in the state off the scoreboard,” Steger said.
Perhaps even more encouraging is that after a slow start to the season, the offense appears to have finally gotten untracked. De Pere scored two or fewer goals in each of its first 10 games but has scored three or more in nine of its last 14.
Senior forward Carmen Villarruel followed a standout junior season with another big year, leading the team with 19 goals and 40 points entering sectionals.
Steger already had been around the program as a father watching his daughters, Dakota and Danyell, both of whom are defenders on the team. He didn’t have to make any introductions to the players after he was hired, but there still was an adjustment period in his mind.
“There definitely was some growing pains from both sides, from the coaches to players,” he said. “Adjusting to learning how to do things. I think I was fortunate to where I was able to watch the team the last few years. I knew the players and their talent levels. That made it a little bit easier.”
De Pere will attempt to do what most girls teams from Northeastern Wisconsin have not been able to do since the state tournament started in 1983: win a D1 championship.
Neenah (1990) and Appleton East (2011) are the only teams from the region to do it, although Steger thinks the level of competition has gotten closer. He has been on both sides as the former coach at Green Bay Preble and Burlington, and he remembers a time when teams from this area would qualify for state and often lose in the first game once there.
“I think it’s coming,” Steger said. “I’ve been in this area for quite a bit of time. I think we have closed the game in both boys and girls soccer.”