This year’s model of the Mount Horeb girls soccer team suits up 10 seniors, five of whom are four-year letterwinners.
And they all quite possibly could have been three-time defending state champions, too, were it not for the behemoth of Waukesha Catholic Memorial standing in their way.
The Crusaders have shut out Mount Horeb in the past three WIAA state championship games — twice in Division 2 and last year in Division 3.
This year, a shift in the tournament brackets pair the familiar foes against one another in the state semifinal round. The state second-ranked Vikings (15-4-2) will take on the top-ranked Crusaders (21-3-2) at 5 tonight in a Division 3 semifinal at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee.
“They wanted to be back in this situation since the moment the last whistle blew after last year’s state final,” Mount Horeb coach Mark Newman said.
Newman specifically schedules tough non-conference opponents — running the risk of outcomes such as this year’s five-game winless streak — to prepare his team for this time of year. After its tough midseason run, the Vikings have won seven consecutive games, outscoring opponents 51-3 in that span.
“It toughened them up,” Newman said. “We learned that we had to play faster, how to respond to adversity, and that what we have been doing wasn’t quite good enough.”
The Vikings will have to play their very best this evening — especially with the Crusaders boasting the two-time state player of the year, junior Emily Cervantes, who has scored 31 goals in 17 games.
Mount Horeb is not going to back down from the challenge of playing one of the best players in the state.
“That’s what you want. You want to play the best of the best,” senior midfielder Lilly Iverson said. “I think that it’s going to be a great game and I can’t wait to play them.”
Cervantes is not the only component of the Crusaders’ lethal offense. Jo Rolli and Nicole Piette each scored more than 20 goals for Catholic Memorial this spring.
“We have talked about it every year and plan different things for them every year, and we keep getting closer. So I think this year, we have a pretty good chance with our team,” senior defender Tess Baier said. “We are really excited for it.”
The Vikings have a top-notch player of their own in senior captain and UW-La Crosse recruit Cassie Handrick, who has scored 32 goals and added 19 assists.
“This team is more dynamic offensively. We have more options, more ways to score,” Newman said. “If our best shot is stopped, we have other alternatives — in some of our past seasons, that was a struggle for us. I think this is our team that has the best shot.”
If the Vikings can get past the Crusaders, they would stand one victory from a goal that has teased them for three years running.
“It would kind of just be unreal,” said Handrick, the Vikings’ all-time leader in goals. “(Beating Catholic Memorial) was our goal from the beginning.”
And it would be a crowning achievement for a senior class that has taken the Vikings program to new heights.
“It’s a special class. It really is,” Newman said. “They were really a part of changing to culture of the program when they got here. They leave a legacy that’s going to be tough to beat.”