By Nick Beversdorf
It was a busy week for Merrill varsity boys soccer, facing off against both Wausau teams during the week and then facing Mosinee and Waupaca on Saturday during an invite. Things did not go well for the Bluejays, losing all but the Mosinee game, which they tied.
On Tuesday (Sept. 6), Merrill faced off against Wausau East, losing with a final score of 2-3. Although a winnable game, Merrill couldn’t quite capitalize on their chances, tipping the scales in East’s favor.
East got their first goal in with less than 30 seconds in the half, however Merrill responded with a goal at 59:50, courtesy of Joe Ladewig and assisted by Hunter Wallace, to tie things back up. Unfortunately, East scored two goals within five minutes of each other – one at 69:18 and one at 73:18. Merrill ended the scoring with Zach Weix scoring a goal at 75:00, assisted by Austin Burgener.
“This was a frustrating night for a variety of reasons,” comments head coach Kyle Hahn. “This was easily a winnable conference game that got away from us. We were the superior team for most of the game, but couldn’t finish our chances. We had an opportunity to go up 1-0 before half with a penalty kick, but we couldn’t convert from the spot. That frustration was compounded by the fact that we gave up a goal with less than 30 seconds left in the first half. We did a good job of getting back into the game with a goal shortly into the second half, but gifted East with a two goal cushion heading into the last stretch of the game.”
Merrill had eight shots on goal compared to East’s six and Mason Gerbert had three saves compared to East’s six.
“We were starting to gain a bit of momentum after our second goal,” adds Hahn. “But the referees spotted lightning and put the game into a delay with 13 minutes left. After waiting for a bit, the game was called because it was going to be too dark by the time we would be able to resume play.
“At the end of the day, they were up a goal when the game ended and that’s what goes in the books. Definitely frustrating, but we’ll learn from this game and continue to work and grow as a unit so that we’re ready to go when they come for a visit later in September.”
Things didn’t improve on Thursday, when Merrill faced off against Wausau West. Merrill lost in a 0-4 shutout similar to that of the Everest game. However, a formation change and other discussions helped bring out a more potent Merrill offense in the second half.
West scored their goals at relatively spaced intervals: 27:00, 39:32, 59:55 and 88:23. Merrill had four shots on goal compared to West’s 17 and credit goes to Merrill keeper Mason Gerbert who held off 13 of those shots.
“Credit goes to West and their coaching staff. They’ve got a solid team from top to bottom that knows how to move the ball around the field. They’re very much like Everest in terms of quality, technical ability, and organization. We struggled a bit during the first half with their high intensity, high pressure style of play. Whenever we got the ball it seemed like they had two to three guys buzzing around which made it hard to get a pass or shot off.
“Coach Bialecki and I had a chat about tweaking our formation a bit to counteract some of their pressure and it ended up paying off. We took off one of our three forwards and brought in an additional holding midfielder to clog up some space and create additional options coming forward out of the back. It proved to be what our team needed because we were able to move the ball way more effectively from that point on. West is a fast team and we talked with our guys at halftime about not trying to play the ball through and run around them, but connect passes in front of them, force them to commit, and then combine in the open lanes.
“The second half was much better and we had greater success moving the ball through their pressure and into our attacking third. We had a few great chances that just didn’t fall our way. We were a bit unlucky on a couple of occasions with offsides calls that went against us when we had prime scoring opportunities, but I’m sure the officials had a better angle than any of us did to make those calls. I’m proud of our team for fighting through to the last whistle again.
“Our bench seems to get smaller and smaller every day with injuries and knocks keeping guys out of action, but that doesn’t stop our guys from leaving it out on the field.”
On Saturday, the Bluejays traveled down to Wausau West for an invite, facing Mosinee and Waupaca. With Mosinee the game ended up being a frustrating 3-3 tie. Although Merrill had the majority of the possession, they just couldn’t get the ball into the net as often as they should’ve.
Austin Burgener made all three goals, one in the first half and two crucial ones in the second that evened out the score and prevented a loss. Merrill had 11 shots on goal compared to Mosinee’s 10, and seven saves compared to Mosinee’s eight.
“A frustrating game all around. We held a majority of the possession, were working the ball around well, but had an immense amount of trouble putting the ball in the back of the net. Mosinee is a beatable team by our standards and we didn’t do enough to get it done.
“Credit to our guys for not giving up, though, especially Austin Burgener. He came up with two goals in the second half on top of his first half tally to help us draw level. The coaching staff and I talked with the guys after the game and everyone knew a winning result got away from us. We’ll be looking to right that ship when we host Mosinee on the turf later this month.”
Loss to Waupaca
Merrill rounded out the week’s games with a tough 2-4 loss to Waupaca.
After Waupaca scored two goals in the first half, Austin Zettler came in with a goal just before the half ended. Waupaca scored another goal in the second but Merrill kept in the hunt with Taylor Hipke sending one to the back of the net, assisted by Zettler. Waupaca got a last shot in to put the score at 4-2.
Merrill had six shots on goal compared to Waupaca’s 12, and eight saves compared to Waupaca’s four.
“Our guys responded well after tying Mosinee in the first game. We came out sharp and ready to move the ball around the field. Waupaca had two or three standout players on their team that seemed to make the difference in this game. They went 2-0 up on us, but we got one back just before half when Austin Zettler converted a PK. The game was a bit more wide open in the second half as legs started to tire.
“Waupaca scored another to go 3-1 up, but we got a little help from the officials with another PK. Their keeper did well to make the initial save, but Taylor Hipke followed up well to put the ball in the back of the net. The final few minutes got a little cagey and we seemed to let up just a bit as they found a way to convert off a shot just outside our 18. In my opinion, it was a very soft goal to concede. We had plenty of guys in the box and around the player, but no one closed him down and he made us pay. A bit unfortunate as a 2-4 score line makes the game look less close than it actually was.
“I was much happier with everyone’s work rate and our play on and off the ball this game than the first against Mosinee. We’ll take what we can from these games, learn from our mistakes, and carry on forward back into Valley play against Marshfield and SPASH this week.”
Merrill varsity soccer will face off against Marshfield on Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Marshfield and will then play SPASH at Jay Stadium on Thursday at 7 p.m.