Any talk about Elkhorn Area High boys soccer team rebuilding this season was just that: talk.
Despite losing 23 players from quality teams over the last two seasons and going through a coaching change within the program this season, the Elks won the Southern Lakes Conference title. And on Saturday, they made it back-to-back state tournament berths.
Marco Perez had a natural hat trick and a stingy Elkhorn defense was impenetrable for 90 minutes in a 6-0 shutout of Muskego in a WIAA Division 1 sectional final.
Fourth-ranked Elkhorn improved to 13-0 on the season and finds out Sunday what seed it will have and who its opponent will be at Saturday’s one-day, four-team state tournament in Mukwonago.
Muskego (6-4-3) and Elkhorn were both No. 1 seeds coming out of their brackets of the sectional, but Saturday it was all Elks.
Ian Hembree scored to make it 1-0 in just the fifth minute, heading in a corner kick from Luke Schoeneberg.
Elkhorn goalkeeper Joe Griswold, who stopped all seven shots he faced, said the early goal was pivotal, especially with the Elks playing against a gusty headwind the first half.
“I knew right then that this was our game,” Griswold said. “Even when we had that second goal (in the first half) called off, I knew we were in good shape, especially when they couldn’t score the first half with the wind.”
After leading 1-0 at half, Elkhorn opened it up in a 15-minute span of the second half. Schoeneberg made it 2-0 when he rifled a shot past Muskego keeper Aiden Bergemann off a direct kick at 57:03.
Perez then rattled off three straight goals to put the game away. The senior’s first, at 61:01, came off a nifty assist from Gavino Perez. Marco Perez made it 4-0 three minutes later on Schoeneberg’s second assist of the game, and the natural hat trick came at 69:53 on a perfectly executed give and go with Ray Beilman.
The sophomore Beilman capped off the scoring with an unassisted goal at 72:17.
Marco Perez said the thought of rebuilding instead of simply reloading was never brought up.
“We might’ve been a little nervous, but we never lost confidence in our abilities all season,” Perez said. “Even today when we were all pretty nervous coming in, once we got that first goal, we just went out and played our game.”
Elkhorn dominated from start to finish. Muskego’s leading scorer, Nikita Gladkov, was limited to one shot on goal and was a non-factor. The Warriors had very few scoring chances and spent much of match in Elkhorn’s offensive end.
First-year Elkhorn coach Jordan Kayser could not have been happier with the way Saturday’s match, or the season for that matter, went.
“I’m just so proud of the fight these guys had today and all season,” Kayser said. “They showed up today and proved to everybody that we don’t rebuild, we just reload.
“Coming into today, I thought that we were better than Muskego in a lot of areas, and we showed that today. Even going against the wind the first half, I thought we got really good looks. I really felt having that 1-0 lead at half with the wind at our backs the second half, we’d control play and that’s what we did.”
And now the Elks are headed back to state for the second straight season.
ELKHORN 6, MUSKEGO 0
Muskego 0 0—0
Elkhorn 1 5—6
E—Ian Hembree (Luke Schoeneberg) 4:53
E—Schoeneberg 57:03. E—Marco Perez (Gavino Perez) 61:01. E—M. Perez (Schoeneberg) 64:22. E—M. Perez (Ray Beilman) 69:53. E—Beilman 72:17
Saves—Joe Griswold (E) 7, Nolan Ahler (E) 1