With 11 seniors and 15 returning letterwinners, Verona boys soccer coach Chris Handrick knew his team had the talent and experience to reach the Division 1 state tournament.

The Wildcats operated in workmanlike fashion all season, dissecting defenses with crisp passing and communication while shutting down several of the best offenses in the state.

Senior midfielder Eliot Popkewitz served as the fulcrum of the offense, often times gathering the ball from a defender and racing upfield to either blast a shot on goal or distribute to a forward.

Senior forwards Jack Knight and Bennett Luttinen played similar roles as Popkewitz. Knight led the team in goals (15) and also dished out 10 assists, while Luttinen finished with seven goals and seven assists.

Fellow senior Gannon Simonett netted nine goals, with several coming at crucial junctures of close games. Junior striker Jonathan Gamez scored 14 goals and was a menace for defenders to stay in front of.

Senior defender Sam Lynch was among the state’s best weapons when it came to corner kicks, as he used his 6-foot-3 frame to out-jump and out-muscle defenders. Lynch was also the Wildcats’ defensive stalwart alongside Tavion McNuckle, Brooks Luttinen and Diego Luna.

Senior Nate Hanson and junior Owen Gibson split time in net for most of the regular season. Hanson took over down the stretch, as he finished with four shutouts in the final five games.

Verona was inexperienced when it came to the state tournament, but dominated offensively in a 3-0 victory over Kenosha Tremper in the semifinals. Popkewitz scored in the first half of the championship game against Neenah, and Gamez added an insurance goal late in the second half to secure the golden ball.

The Wildcats won 11 straight games to finish the season 21-1-2, and collected numerous postseason awards.

Popkewitz and Lynch were selected to the 2019 United Soccer Coaches Fall High School Boys All-Great Lakes Region Team. Popkewitz was selected as the Big Eight Conference’s player of the year, and Lynch was also one of nine defenders selected to the 2019 United Soccer Coaches All-America Team. Both players were included in the Wisconsin Soccer Coaches Association’s “Best 11” on the all-state team.

Handrick earned his second Big Eight coach of the year award in four seasons at the helm and was selected as the WSCA’s Division 1 coach of the year.

— Adam Feiner