North’s soccer team had never won consecutive conference titles until last season.
Its hopes of making it three straight will likely be decided by the WIAA on Tuesday.
“I think the girls are really frustrated because they spent a tremendous amount of time in the offseason practicing, working, getting better as a team, and watching that get taken away because of (the Coronavirus) …” Golden Raiders’ coach Tim Eirich said. “For that, they’re extremely disappointed and frustrated and upset.”
Nine girls made all-Fox River Classic Conference last season and six were supposed to return.
But Dana Fish (first team), who led the squad with 20 goals, is playing for her club team and Leah Moyer (second team) will miss the season because of an injury.
First-team players who are back are Ashley English, who will compete next year at MIT, and Megan Little. Maggie Mueller (UW-Eau Claire) is back after making the second team and Emma Belmore received honorable mention.
But who is going to replace Fish’s scoring ability?
“Our philosophy is not driven by one person scoring – yeah, Dana had a lot of goals – but if you look at our success over the years, we have a lot of goal scorers,” Eirich said. “You can mark one person on our team, but we always stress there are a lot of other alternatives to score. While our defense has been phenomenal, our success is that we score from all different areas from the field which makes it hard to defend us.”
Other key losses include two players who made all-league first team in Emma Little and goalie Meredith Opie.
“That is a hole for us this year,” Eirich said.
But despite having only four seniors, the coach’s message this spring is to stay positive.
“We’ve got to keep working for the future,” he said. “And I guess just hope that we’re still going to have some type of season. I’m still hoping maybe the WIAA will put together a four- or six-game season – very short, maybe a month – so that we can at least play.
“I’m not so worried about telling them don’t worry about conference championships or a state tournament, let’s see if we can’t just get out and play some soccer together as a team.”
Katie Veldkamp, who grew up in Michigan and played at Dordt College in Iowa, is the new coach after serving as an assistant the last two seasons.
Naturally, this was not how she envisioned making her debut as head coach.
“It’s disappointing but hopefully we’ll still have somewhat of a season,” she said. “I’ve been emailing players with workouts they can do at home and we’ve had a video call to stay in touch. It’s a little bit different because they’re from two different schools, so some of the players have not met each other. That’s another dynamic that’s a challenge this year.”
Elliana Gonzalez is the lone returner who made all-conference last season, and she has added a leadership role to her resume.
Maddie Zylstra is the team’s top returning scorer – she had 11 goals last year – and knows how to move off the ball as well as finding where to go by reading open spaces according to her coach.
But Lutheran/Christian has to replace two all-conference players, including Katelynn Witte, who made the first team in her fourth season on varsity.
“We had some very talented seniors, but we’ve got a young team that’s full of promise and heart,” Veldkamp said. “So I look forward to seeing what the girls can do. They are very encouraging of each other, even though some of them have not met in person. They still cheer each other on and encourage each other to get touches on the soccer ball, things like that. So that makes me extra excited to be their coach because they’re so great.”
Coach Scott Feltner has been doing all he can to keep the Redwings in soccer mode: from sending tips via email almost every day, posting workouts, reminding his players to do their 1,000 touches (touching the ball as a 20-minute exercise) to even keeping in touch with college coaches for those on his team who could have potential to continue the sport.
“I’ve been trying to facilitate those opportunities for the girls even though we can’t play,” Feltner said. “I’ve been trying to get the word out to say ‘we’ve got this talent here … they’re pretty good, so when things open up you should consider them.’”
One candidate might be Halle Boldt, a junior who finished with a team-high 17 goals last season.
Sophomore Lily Luginbill also returns after having the second-most points on the squad.
Feltner thinks Boldt can increase her number of goals and compete for an all-conference spot, and he expects Luginbill to grow into a bigger role on the squad.
Junior Corinne Pfeiffer is the likely goalkeeper after four-year player Amy Pfile graduated. Pfeiffer played soccer as a freshman and competed on the track and field team as a sophomore.
“She’s a really good athlete,” Feltner said. “Amy was the same way when she started as a freshman. She never played goalkeeper and most of the credit for her development actually goes to my assistant coach who worked with her and developed her.”