The UW-La Crosse soccer team didn’t lose a game in October, and so far, the results for November are looking pretty good, too.
Senior Maddie Granos gave the Eagles the lead just before halftime, and UW-L added two more goals after the break for a 3-0 win over UW-Stout in a WIAC tournament semifinal game Thursday night at Veterans Memorial Field Sports Complex.
The top-seeded Eagles (17-1-2) won their 12th straight game, and will play host to second-seeded UW-Whitewater in the WIAC championship game at 5 p.m. Saturday. UW-L lost to the Warhawks 3-0 in last season’s WIAC championship game, and haven’t won the conference tournament since 1996. The win didn’t come without a price, however, as Granos left the game in the second half with an injury and didn’t return. Her status for Saturday’s game is uncertain.
The Eagles are ranked 15th in NCAA Division III and first in the North Region, but a win on Saturday would lock up the second appearance in the NCAA tournament for UW-L, after an at-large bid in 2015.
“Maddie’s goal for us was massive today because the timing was so perfect,” Eagles coach Jason Murphy said of Granos’ goal, which came on an assist from fellow senior Rachel Rogahn. “Just being right before half, and we had played well, but to give us that little edge going into half was big. We were able to come out in the second half and dominate early and really create some good chances.”
The goal might have taken longer to get to than UW-L would have hoped, but once they got warmed up — the thermometer read just over 40 degrees at kickoff — the Eagles were off to the races.
“I think we’ve had the luxury this year to get ahead of teams pretty early, so we just had to stay disciplined and keep doing what we were doing,” Murphy said. “We were creating some decent chances and in the first 40 minutes, we just couldn’t put that final piece together.”
Freshman Kaitlyn Villars added her team-leading 13th goal of the season in the 56th minute to extend the Eagles lead, and then junior Margaret Harings headed in a beautifully serviced free kick from freshman Tori Barnhart just over five minutes later.
Harings timed her leap perfectly, and tucked the ball perfectly under the crossbar with her forehead to put the game out of reach.
“She’s a handful,” Murphy said of Harings’ aerial prowess. “In the air, I would take her probably against anyone out there. She’s strong, she’s physical and she’s a great athlete. Once she’s up there, she’s really learned what to do with it when she’s up there. She can really go up there and get it and then knock it down.”
Three goals was more than enough for the robust Eagles’ defense, which allowed just five shots and only one on goal, compared to the 24 shots and 11 on goal the UW-L offense peppered the Blue Devils with.
Freshman Lily Brock made the lone save for the Eagles, and said that a win Saturday is something UW-L has been striving towards all season long.
In addition to being conference winners, and the conference tournament winners, a win on Saturday gets us a bid into the tournament,” Brock said. “Then, there’s no concern of if we’re going to get in. I know we have a good record, but there would be nothing better than walking off on Saturday knowing that you’re going to the national championships in some capacity or another.”
Murphy said that the Eagles will simply rely on what’s put them on the position they’re in.
“We’re going to get after it (Friday) in our training session so we can be ready to go for Saturday,” Murphy said. “As long as we put our best product out there, we believe in our training and our methods will allow us to be successful.”