The Bluejay soccer team faced a formidable challenge as the 15th-seeded team at the site of #2 Chippewa Falls in last Tuesday’s WIAA Regional opener, but the MHS boys didn’t let that get in their heads.
Instead, they rose to their opponent’s level, playing within 1-0 until the final 15 minutes of the 80-minute tilt. But after a second score by Teagan Warrick in the 65th minute made it 2-0, the Jays switched to all-out-attack mode-their only shot at a win but leaving them vulnerable to counter-attack.
Chi-Hi scored twice more to a lone laser from Luis Mendoza, and the Cardinals won a 4-1 game. Only one other game between 2 and 15 squads in eight sectionals state-wide was closer than 6-0.
“Honestly, it was our best game of the year, by far!” Merrill coach Doug Smith said. “It was incredible the way the team came together.
“All our kids wanted this game. We didn’t have any mental breakdowns, no off sides calls, out-stepping their man on D, each man covering his teammate’s back, and no slackers. I had to move Kyle Hahn and Jordan Broesch back to play fullback positions. It hurt our offense because they are both so dynamic. But I had two spots to fill with regular starters out. They both stepped up huge playing positions so foreign to their norm.”
Warrick had scored in the game’s 17th minute, then added scores in the 65th and 72nd minutes of the second half.
“(Warrick) was absolutely phenomenal-blazing speed, incredible skill, and an unmatched knowledge of the game,” Smith said. “There is absolutely no one in the WVC that compares to this kid, not even close. The Chi Hi coach said he’s been coaching varsity for over 10 years and never has he been blessed with a kid with that much talent.
“(After the first goal) I gave Derek Woellner a most horrible duty, to stop that kid! I told him to forget his zone position and go man to man, and for the next 50 minutes, Derek made their superstar vanish from the game. Warrick tried everything in his power to get away from Derek, but Derek blanketed him. But (Warrick) started using his other players to pick. That brief half second it took Derek to step around that pick gave enough separation for Warrick to strike.”
Aaron Bishop pushed it to 4-0 in the 76th minute, then a minute later Medoza drilled his shot.
“Luis fired an absolute rocket from 40 yards out that shocked both their defense and their keeper,” Smith said.
It took some time for the Jays to adjust to the lightning-fast artificial turf surface at Chippewa Falls.
“The turf made the game extra fast,” Smith said. “We’ve never played on turf before, playing against a team on their home field who plays on it all the time. It would take time for us to adjust our touches.”
Merrill fell to 1-14-1 on the season (with 7 losses by one or two goals) while Chi-Hi improved to 18-4 with 13 shut-outs, but you wouldn’t know it by the support.
“We had more fans than Chi-Hi!” Smith said. “Our fan base has been so loyal and faithful all year.”
The Jays now look to next year.
“I’m am stoked about the future for the kids that get to come back,” Smith said. “At times I had 7 of the 11 players on the field being only freshman and sophomores playing against all juniors and seniors, and they played on a par level against this powerhouse junior/senior team. For my young guys to go into war against that caliber and match them step-for-step is incredible and that’s the future for this team.”