The Bluejay soccer team members may have felt a winnable game slipped through their collective fingers in Friday’s 4-1 season-opening defeat by Wausau Newman, but they weren’t about to let the same thing happen again on Monday.
Merrill took charge of its home contest with Antigo, racking up a 3-0 lead in the first half with help from two goals by Jordan Broesch, and held it there despite liberal substitution in the second half.
“We played a lot better as a team (on Monday),” MHS coach Doug Smith said. “We did a lot better job passing. We had a ton more corner kicks-we had 10 and they had one-because we were pressuring their defense and they were doing anything they could to get rid of the ball. Obviously, there is room for improvement, but there were some bright spots.
“Jordan stood out as far as an individual, but you have to give credit to our defense. They didn’t let a whole lot of balls through and didn’t allow a lot of scoring opportunities for Antigo.
“This was a good morale boost for the guys to know they’re moving in the right direction as a team.”
Broesch scored the game’s first goal on a Red Robin defensive mistake in the 24th minute.
“It was off a throw-in, and their defensive kid kind of whiffed,” Smith said. “Jordan took it in, and very calmly dribbled around the keeper. He didn’t have to shoot hard.”
An Alex O’Malley cross led to Lucas Olson’s tally in the 31st minute.
“It was a pretty goal,” Smith said. “It was kind of a bicycle one-touch kick, the way Lucas ended up on the ground.”
David Pophal popped a ball over the top of the defense to set up the third score in the 37th minute.
“Jordan got a jump on the defense and was able to keep his composure even with defenders crawling on him,” Smith said. “He made a harder shot to the right side.”
Merrill held a substantial edge in offensive chances.
“Antigo had a total of six shots, only four on goal,” Smith said. “We had nine shots on goal on top of the three that went in, and a whole mess of shots off the goal.”
Newman cashed in on its opportunities in Friday’s game at the MARC, taking down the 4-1 win.
“The score was a little deceptive,” Smith said. “One of their goals was on a PK (penalty kick), and the last one (goalkeeper) Austin (Gartmann) went to catch a floater but it went through his hands. So they had two honest goals and we had one.
“Jordan had two off the post and one off the top bar and two more just missed right. He also kicked a PK too much to the center and their keeper stopped it.
“They out-played us with their passing, but we out-hustled them. They controlled the ball better, but our defense stood up so they didn’t get that many quality shots. I’ve been really happy with (fullbacks Mike Grund and Derek Woellner, and sweeper John Breaman) and David Pophal playing on the top of the diamond.”
Merrill trailed 2-0 at intermission, but pulled within 3-1 midway through the second half.
“Jordan crossed it (on a corner kick) a little long, but Mike Grund headed it back into the center and (freshman) Logan (Brunett) smashed it right in,” Smith said. “Logan is small in stature, but he plays so big.”
Smith is hoping the team is back to full strength soon.
“Six starters were not in the line-up due to ineligibility, injury, illness and two were at a funeral,” he said. “That makes me more optimistic for the future when we get these guys back.
“We’re also young. We have nine players on varsity that are either freshmen or sophomores. That will be great for us in a couple of years.”