Sturgeon Bay is excited to be in the state high school boys soccer tournament for the third time in the past four seasons.
But the Clippers, who play University School of Milwaukee at noon Thursday in a Division 4 semifinal at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee, want to experience more than just the thrill of playing on the game’s biggest stage.
“I don’t think this team is just satisfied with getting there,” said coach Todd Maas. “They’re not just satisfied with driving down there and being part of the four teams that made it this far. They want to be part of the final two. It would be awesome to get to the championship game and finish on top.”
The Clippers have had one of the most successful programs in Wisconsin in recent years, but they’ve yet to break through the first round of the state tournament. They lost to The Prairie School, 2-0, in a Division 3 semifinal in 2010, and fell to Mount Horeb, 2-0, in a Division 2 semifinal in 2011.
Both The Prairie School and Mount Horeb proceeded to win state titles in those particular years, but Maas said he never considered that as consolation.
“The Prairie School was the better team when we got there the first time,” said Maas, who has led Sturgeon Bay to more than 100 wins in his five seasons as head coach. “The second time, when we played Mount Horeb, they had a couple of national (select) kids on their team and everything we did, they did better. To say that you lost to the eventual state champion doesn’t make it feel any better on the bus ride home.
“I’m hoping that this year is our year. That the third time is the charm.”
Maas said approximately half of the players on his roster were on the Clippers’ last state team two years ago. He said those veterans, such as leading scorers Jesse Mejia and Robert Desotelle, and the entire team are focused on making a state splash this time around.
“I think they’re a little bit more determined,” he said. “Some of them asked me the other day why it hasn’t sunk in yet that we’re going to state. I think it’s because they’re not just happy with getting there. They’re more determined and want some results.”
The Clippers (18-6-1) and University School of Milwaukee (18-2-3) both reached the state tournament with difficult sectional final games Saturday. The Clippers beat Central Wisconsin Christian, 3-2, in a penalty-kick shootout, while the Wildcats edged Sheboygan County Christian/Sheboygan Lutheran, 1-0, in overtime.
Maas said the win was a confidence-booster for the Clippers, who trailed 1-0 until late in regulation and came from behind to beat a team for the first time all season.
“I think that helped us out a lot by winning that game,” said Maas. “It showed the kids that the game’s not over until the whistle blows and that no matter what happens we can win.”
The Wildcats, ranked No. 3 in Division 4 by the Wisconsin Soccer Coaches Association, are making their second state appearance and first since 2008. They’re led in scoring by Isaac Schlenker (36 goals, 12 assists) and Austin Matthews (11 goals, nine assists).
Maas said he’s expecting to get a good scouting report on the Wildcats from an unlikely source, Northeastern Wisconsin Lutheran coach Jeff Schaefer. The Clippers’ beat Schaefer’s team for the Packerland Conference championship and ended N.E.W.’s playoff run last week in the sectional semifinals.
“Jeff scouted (the Wildcats) for us in their sectional final game and said he has a lot of stuff on them as far as their formations and tendencies,” said Maas. “He’s a very good friend of ours, kinda like my older brother. He’s very supportive of our team and we’re very supportive of their team. We don’t like to lose to each other, but he said if it’s not his team going on, he’s going to help us out as much as possible.”
In the other Division 4 semifinal, Barron (12-7-2) plays The Prairie School (15-4-2) at 2 p.m. Thursday. The Prairie School is ranked No. 2 and has won four state championships (2004,’05, ’10, ’11).
Maas said it would “mean a ton” to beat University School and advance to the championship game, which is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday.
“I don’t want to say it’s a monkey on our back, but we haven’t fared well at state,” said Maas. “It would mean a lot to the program just to get past that first game, so we can at least bring home some sort of hardware.”