When the Oregon girls soccer team won its last state championship in 2015, none of this year’s players were in high school.
But the Panthers have been back to state every year since.
Oregon rolls into its WIAA Division 2 state semifinal undefeated at 16-0-1, but with unfinished business. The Panthers were the state runner-up last year.
First up in their quest to win another title is Brookfield East (8-12-1), at 7 p.m. Thursday at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee. In the other sectional semifinal, top-ranked and top-seeded Whitefish Bay (23-1) will play fourth-seeded Marshfield (14-7-2).
A vital cog in Oregon’s offense has been junior forward Avary Fanning, who leads the team in goals, with 18. She is looking forward to making this trip to state one to remember.
“I think we want it more than last season,” Fanning said. “We want the gold ball. It’s been a really good season, so I want it to carry on.”
Oregon has thrived with its defense. The Panthers have 14 shutouts, and junior goalkeeper Melia Moyer has 38 saves, with only five goals allowed.
Oregon features a defense that has four defenders and a goalie who earned Badger South All-Conference honors led by senior defender Sydney McKee, junior defender Brooklyn Kane and Moyer (goalie), who were first-team all-conference selections.
Coach Nelson Brownell said as soon as the Panthers turn the ball over, the player closest to the ball becomes the first defender.
Brownell said the focus in practice this week will be on fine-tuning the little things like making passes on the ground since the game will be played on a turf field and communicating.
But Fanning said the Panthers should not mess too much with a good thing.
“I don’t want anything to change the next couple of games,” she said. “If we just play like we have been this whole season we will do great.”
One of the best weapons for a defense is a high-powered offense. Oregon averages 5.7 goals per game and have the firepower with eight players who have scored six or more goals this season.
Fanning, in her second year year playing with junior forward Ashley Hanson and senior forward Ella Hughes, said the chemistry with the forwards is better this season and her confidence is stronger.
“We struggled with the chemistry last year, but it got better as the season went on and it carried into this year,” Fanning said. “It makes it easier to score.”
Brownell said Fanning is a lot more vocal this season, taking on a bigger leadership role this year communicating with the other forwards.
“If you start as a freshman you don’t feel like you have really much of a leadership role on the team,” Fanning said. “You are just there.”
One area the Panthers have excelled on our set pieces like corner kicks.
“The corner kick is one of the only plays in soccer you get to set up and if we run it right 100 times we should score 100 goals,” Brownell said. “We know the plays like the back of our hand.”
Bronwell said the key is getting to the open space first. Kane is second on the team with 10 goals. She scored all three goals in two sectional games on headers off corner kicks.
Brownell said having a defender like Kane scoring so many goals is not something he expected to see at the start of the season.
“It comes down to who wants the ball more,” he said. “Brooklyn has done a good job of fighting for the ball and being the first one before a defender.”
Brookfield East is making its making its fourth appearance at state and its first since 2008.
The Spartans won the state championship in 1989 before the divisional format. They finished eighth in the Greater Metro Conference this season, which was won by Division 1 state qualifier Divine Savior Holy Angels and last season’s Division 2 champion Brookfield Central.
“Their record doesn’t show how good of a team they are,” Brownell said.
Brownell said he expects Brookfield East to find film and watch to see how the Panthers handle attacking corner kicks.
The Spartans won four straight games and clipped Cedarburg 1-0 in a sectional final to reach state.
“If you get on a roll and win four straight that’s all it takes to make it to state,” Brownell said.