Sometimes all it takes is one conversation to help turn a team around.
The Green Bay Notre Dame boys soccer program qualified for the WIAA state tournament for the second straight year last week perhaps in part because of a meeting between the coaching staff and captains after a loss to Green Bay Southwest in September.
The Tritons were not necessarily playing poorly at the time, but everyone felt they had untapped potential. They were using more of an offensive formation early in the season, and Notre Dame coach Bob Rickards sensed his players weren’t comfortable.
So, they talked it out.
“I think they were getting frustrated a little bit,” said Rickards, who declined to go into details about the changes made. “They felt that they were a better team, and they didn’t feel like they should have lost or tied a couple of games in there.
“We came in with a formation. They came in with a formation. It sort of matched, so then there is the buy-in from them. I think they are more comfortable with it.”
The Tritons lost to Fox River Classic Conference champion Green Bay Preble 4-0 and to Southwest 2-0 before making a switch.
They haven’t lost since.
Notre Dame has gone 12-0-3 in the last 15 games and did not allow a goal in four tournament games leading up to state. During the unbeaten streak, it has outscored its opponents 44-13.
“I think now we have really gelled together, really came together as a team,” senior midfielder Kieran DeGroot said after his team beat Appleton Xavier in a sectional championship on Saturday. “We know what each other is looking for now.”
The Tritons have impressed some of their opponents along the way. They beat Green Bay East early during the streak, jumping out to a 4-0 lead in the first 40 minutes before hanging on for a 4-3 win.
“They whopped us in the first half,” East coach Mike Bootz said. “He basically had two defensive mids and four guys that are focused on the attack and allows them to create overloads in the corner of the field and keep possession of the ball forward rather than having possession of the ball in front of your own goal.”
Notre Dame always will play strong defense under the defensive-minded Rickards — Bootz often likes to say Rickards’ teams can be methodical and boring but control the game, clock and possession — but the offense has developed a number of different weapons that has made the Tritons a more well-rounded squad.
The tournament run has illustrated it.
Senior forwards T.J. LeMoine and Greg Michalski each had two goals in an opening-round game against Denmark, while LeMoine scored both goals in a win over Wrightstown in the second round.
Senior midfielder Caleb Smyth recorded a hat trick in a sectional semifinal against New Holstein/Elkhart Lake-Glenbeluah before DeGroot played hero by scoring both of the Tritons’ goals against Xavier to lead Notre Dame to state.
“There are six or seven guys who can put the ball in the net,” Rickards said. “I think you’ve been seeing that in the last couple of games.”
The Tritons will play Pewaukee in a Division 3 state semifinal Thursday at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee. They will attempt to win the program’s fourth championship and the first since Rickards led them to consecutive titles in 2007 and 2008.
“They are my favorite,” Bootz said. “I wouldn’t want to play them if I was any of these Division 3 schools.”