Eliot Popkewitz and Sam Lynch were two key components to Verona winning the Division 1 state championship in its first state tournament appearance.

The two seniors announced where they were continuing their soccer careers just two days apart.

Popkewitz verbally committed to the University of Wisconsin on Sunday, Jan. 12, and Sam Lynch followed with a verbal commitment to the University of St. Thomas. Both players were selected to the 2019 United Soccer Coaches Fall High School Boys All-Great Lakes Region Team last month.

Popkewitz continues a strong link between the Madison 56ers club team and the Badgers. He will be reunited with former club teammate Beto Spielvogel, a Cuba City native and sophomore goalkeeper at UW.

“We have a lot of coaches at 56ers who have either played or coaches at Wisconsin. There’s definitely a bloodline between UW and the club,” Popkewitz said. “One of my coaches, Don Reddan, played for the Badgers.”

Popkewitz sat out Verona’s preseason scrimmages and the first two games of the season with a broken ring toe on his right foot, but instantly became an invaluable part of the Wildcats’ attack once fully healthy. The 5-foot-8 midfielder and three-year captain became the program leader in goals (40) after finding the back of the net 14 times and dished out a single-season program record 16 assists.

The Badgers were well-aware of Popkewitz’s skill level even before his senior year.

“I attended their ID camp last winter,” he said. “They had me in for a visit with the head coach and my parents, then continued to express interest throughout my senior season.”

Popkewitz was a first-team all-Big Eight Conference selection the last two seasons. He was the Big Eight player of the year and included in the Wisconsin Soccer Coaches Association’s “Best 11” on the all-state team as a senior.

After leading the Wildcats to a second consecutive Big Eight title, Popkewitz came up clutch in the postseason. He scored the game-winning goal in Verona’s 1-0 win over Madison West in the sectional championship, and scored first in the Wildcats’ state tournament games against Kenosha Tremper and Neenah.

“(Wisconsin) coach (John) Trask told me, ‘I like winners.’,” Popkewitz explained. “I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something along the lines of, ‘There’s a lot to be said about winning a state championship.’”

Popkewitz plans to major in engineering at Wisconsin, which plays its home games at Dan McClimon Memorial Track/Soccer Complex in Madison. The Badgers are 23-8-6 at home over last four seasons.

UW enjoyed three straight winning seasons from 2016-18, a stretch in which it went 33-15-11 overall, 14-7-3 in the Big Ten and won the 2017 conference tournament. The Badgers dropped off to 3-11-4 overall and 1-4-3 in the Big Ten last season.

“It’ll be a large adjustment in soccer and academics,” Popkewitz said. “The engineering program will be a challenge, but I’m going to do the same thing as I’ve been doing on the soccer field.”

Lynch became a first-team all-Big Eight honoree for the third straight season and a WSCA Best 11 selection after scoring nine goals and recording one assist as a senior.

Lynch anchored a Verona defense that pitched 17 shutouts last season, including three to cap the 2019 campaign. He was also one of nine defenders selected to the 2019 United Soccer Coaches Fall High School Boys All-America Team.

St. Thomas is located in Saint Paul, Minnesota. The Tommies have enjoyed nine straight winning seasons, including three straight NCAA Division III Tournament appearances from 2016-18.

UST was involuntarily removed from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference on May 22, and will be a conference member until the end of the 2020-21 school year. The Tommies were invited to join the Summit League, a Division I conference, on Oct. 4. The school applied for an NCAA waiver to jump from D-III to D-I beginning with the 2021-22 school year.