The Verona girls soccer team got two early goals and shut down Waunakee on defense to stymie the top-seeded Warriors 2-0 in a WIAA Division 1 regional championship on Saturday, June 12, in Waunakee.
With the win, Verona (9-3-1) advances to play third-seeded Madison West in a Division 1 sectional semifinal on Tuesday, June 15. Verona tied Madison West 1-1 on May 11. The Regents upset second-seeded Sun Prairie 2-0 in the other regional final. The Wildcats and Regents tied for second place in the Big Eight Conference behind Sun Prairie this season.
“I’m super excited to play out of the four seed, and to keep moving on is a great thing,” Verona coach Jen Faulkner said. “We have a saying with our team, ‘Proud, but not satisfied.’” ‘I’m proud of these girls because they played their hearts out. We are not satisfied. We want to continue on.”
The victory came on the heels of a thrilling 1-0 win over Middleton in a Division 1 regional semifinal where the Wildcats scored in the final 7 minutes.
Verona and Madison West have a strong rivalry that includes six ties in the past eight games over the past eight years. When the Wildcats tied the Regents earlier this season, it was a stretch where they played Oregon, Sun Prairie and West in a 10-day stretch.
“I feel like we have come a long way since we have played those three teams,” Faulkner said. “I’m really optimistic that we can give them a good game.”
And there will be no tie this time. If the game is tied at the end of regulation it will go to overtime and a potential shootout.
The Wildcats have won six straight games since a 1-0 loss to the Warriors on May 21.
Verona 2, Waunakee 0
Verona junior defender Lauren Simonett and freshman forward Izzy Plesac’s early goals propelled the Wildcats to a win over Waunakee on June 12.
Simonett scored at 13 minutes, 50 seconds to give the Wildcats an early edge.
“It feels really great,” said Queoff, who had seven saves, including a stop in the final 4 minutes to preserve the lead. “I think we have worked really hard in practice and have been training for this. We were so ready for this win. We played great all 90 minutes.”
The Wildcats also deflected a free kick by the Warriors to secure the lead.
“I think we had this great energy to go out there and win this game,” Queoff said.
After receiving a pass, Plesac had space and cut the ball back and fired a shot that found the back of the net to give the Wildcats a 2-0 lead at 29:13.
“That goal was key because it secured our spot right before halftime and it made us go into the second half ready to play strong and keep fighting for the ball.”
The Warriors had a slight edge on the Wildcats on shots on goal 7-6.
“I think we put together a really good first half,” Faulkner said. “We played together as a team and built good opportunities and made good on those opportunities. The first 45 (minutes) was excellent.
“The second half was a tale of staying focused, disciplined and playing defense. We didn’t create as many opportunities in the second half, but we didn’t need to.”
Plesac said leading up to the regional final, Verona’s practices were intense as far as communicating on the field.
Most of Waunakee’s best scoring chances came off corner kicks. Verona bottled up Waunakee and forced them to take longer shots from the perimeter.
“Our defense is really tough and strong and made them play it to the outside,” Plesac said.
Verona 1, Middleton 0
It is not exactly how Verona Area High School sophomore Jenna Albert drew it up.
Locked in a scoreless WIAA Division 1 regional semifinal on June 8, senior Kirstin Poppen got a low lining corner kick toward the net. Albert used her non-dominant right foot and scored a goal in the 83rd minute to give fourth-seeded Verona a thrilling 1-0 win over fifth-seeded Middleton at the Verona Area Soccer Stadium.
After scoring, Albert was mobbed by teammates.
“I didn’t even know how I made it,” Albert said. “Izzy (Plesac) laid the ball out perfectly and it was with my right foot and I’m not right footed. I was just going to hit it and hope it went in and it did.”
It marks the second time this season the Wildcats have knocked off Middleton.
“It’s super cool considering we didn’t get a season last year,” Albert said. “We are working super hard and it’s super awesome to have a team that is this great and connected to go forward and far.”
“That’s a huge rivalry for us and to win it, especially in our first playoff game, is really exciting and we will have that confidence for the next game,” Poppen said after the win over the Cardinals.
In the Wildcats’ 5-3 win over the Cardinals on May 27, Poppen scored a goal on a corner kick and had an assist off a corner kick. In the rematch, her corner kick prowess paved the way to a victory again.
“Set pieces like that are always awesome, because you get the chance to get everyone in the box and try to get a head on it. I took so many in the game and it’s funny because that one I didn’t think it was the greatest ball I played, but my teammates were able to get there. Whatever works is great.”
Faulkner expected a showdown between Big Eight Conference rivals. The Wildcats tied Madison West for second in the Big Eight behind champion Sun Prairie, and Middleton took fourth.
“It doesn’t matter what happened in the regular season,” Faulkner said. “The playoffs is a brand new season. Everyone is playing for their last game.”
Verona outshot Middleton 11-4, but it was a defensive battle for most of the game.
Poppen said the Wildcats still were strong possessing the ball and had several strong shots on goal, but didn’t cash in. Verona senior Natalie Linebarger had a cross in the 26th minute that led to two shots on goal, including one by junior forward Anna Burse that Middleton goalkeeper Ainsley Casper made a diving save on. Plesac had a shot from 25 yards out in the 73rd minute ricochet off the top cross bar. Senior midfielder Morgan Grignon charged in to follow it up and Casper dove on the ball to thwart a rebound shot.
“I was really proud of how the girls played patient,” Faulkner said. They worked really hard to build that one goal and they stayed focused and patient. We knew one of those would go in at some point.”
“We were able to beat them to the end line a lot,” Poppen said.
After the Wildcats scored, Middleton put a shot on net and Queoff made a critical save to preserve a one-goal lead.
“Elsa played out of her mind, and she made some great saves late and kept us in it.” Faulkner said. “In the last couple of weeks we haven’t faced a lot of shots other than the last time we played Middleton. Keeping her head in the game and being ready was really important, and she did a great job with that.”