By Nick Beversdorf
Merrill soccer traveled to Ashwaubenon on Thursday for the first round of the regional playoffs. Although Merrill put up a good fight, Ashwaubenon ultimately won with a final score of 5-2.
In was anyone’s game going into the second half, as Ashwaubenon only scored two goals at 20:27 and 39:39 in the first. At 47:04 Austin Zettler scored Merrill’s first goal, assisted by Devon Annis. Ash was able to put themselves three within the span of 10 minutes, with a goal scored at 49:25, 54:43 and 58:07. Merrill would round out the scoring at 84:37 when Devon Annis shot a 30-yarder up and over the keeper’s head for a goal, unassisted.
Merrill had five shots on goal compared to Ash’s 19. Merrill’s Mason Gebert had 14 saves compared to Ash’s three.
“We had a game plan going in and definitely frustrated Ashwaubenon for the first 20 minutes,” comments head coach Kyle Hahn. “We came out with a tight and compact formation to try and keep them off the board and looked to spring our forward and wide midfielders over their back line when we won the ball. I was proud of the way the guys executed our game plan — to go into half down 2-0 to the #1 seed in the regional meant that there was still a chance for us to get back into the game.
“At halftime we changed up our formation a bit to get after them in our attacking half and put their midfield and defenders under pressure. It paid off with an Austin Zettler goal in the 47th minute off a Devon Annis through ball. Unfortunately, I think scoring the goal saw our guys adopt too much of an attacking approach that saw us give up three goals in the span of 10 minutes shortly after. Devon Annis finished up the scoring for the night with an outstanding shot from 30 yards out that sailed over the keeper and into the back of the net with just over five minutes left. It’s hard to see the season end for this group of seniors. Our record certainly doesn’t reflect the amount of skill these guys have and the hard work that they put into practice and games every day. We’re definitely going to miss them next year.”
The entire season, both conference and non-conference, including this playoff game puts Merrill’s record at 3-15-3.
“This season was definitely a learning experience for all involved, including myself,” adds Hahn. “We came into the season wanting to play a certain style of soccer and I think we were fairly successful in doing so. I had plenty of coaches and refs throughout the season, especially after our Valley games, coming up to me and our coaching staff after the game to compliment our team on a variety of things such as how well we moved the ball, our relentless work rate, and the overall progress they see from our program.
“Over the years, I think people have come to associate Merrill soccer with a kick and run approach to the game and this season they noticed we were playing out of the back, connecting strings of passes through midfield, and getting quality shots on goal. I’m sure some of our score lines would have been a bit closer if we had adopted a defensive approach, packed guys in, played the ball long, etc., but that’s not the direction this program needs to head. We need players that are confident on the ball and willing to take risks, even if it means giving up a goal. Everything I read about player, team, and program development talks about focusing on the process versus focusing on results. While it’s hard to say that our season was successful from a wins standpoint, I am confident in saying that our season was successful from a player development standpoint.
“By the end of the season our guys were much more confident in practice and games; they were understanding our formations, the movement we needed from the team as a whole, and how they individually should approach both the attacking and defensive responsibilities of their positions. So while the loss column outweighed our win column, I’m proud of our guys for buying into the process and taking on the challenge of becoming better soccer players each and every day.”