Mike Marse was not certain what to expect on the first day of practice for the Delavan-Darien boys soccer team.
More than two dozen Comets players had showed up for offseason conditioning, but then the COVID-19 pandemic pushed back the start of the fall sports seasons.
When the first day of practice came Sept. 7, a cloud of uncertainty remained.
“The week before the season, I’ve got about eight (players) that play club soccer, and their club was really pushing them to skip their high school season because it was uncertain,” Marse said. “I held an emergency meeting and said, ‘I don’t want you to not do something if you really think that’s where you need to be.’
“But I’ve always heard professional soccer players ... say, ‘I wish I would’ve played with my high school.’ These are your friends you’ve had your whole life, and some of them you’ve played on the same team since you were little, and this is an opportunity to do something with your friends.
“I swayed some votes, I think, that day. They all showed up.”
Two months later, those decisions have paid off in a big way.
Delavan-Darien will be the top seed in the WIAA Division 2 state tournament Saturday at Marshfield. The Comets take on fourth-seeded Sauk Prairie in a semifinal match at 2 p.m. If they win, they will play the winner of second-seeded Roncalli/Two Rivers and third-seeded Medford at 7 p.m.
The only two losses on the season for the Comets came at the hands of Elkhorn, which will play in the Division 1 state tournament.
Marse said the first loss to the Elks, 3-1 on Sept. 17, was a pivotal moment for his team’s success.
“I think some of the seniors took a good look at the team and themselves and figured out what they needed to do to be leaders,” Marse said. “The biggest obstacle we face in high school is ... you’ve got a different mix of four levels of kids, and a lot of times it’s difficult to get seniors to mix with sophomores.
“This year, the juniors and seniors really got along well. I could see after that first Elkhorn game, they really started to bond together. And after the second one, when they got the (penalty kick) awarded in the 86th minute and we lost 1-0, I think it just resealed it.”
The Comets knocked off top-ranked New Berlin Eisenhower 3-2 in a sectional semifinal, rallying from a 2-0 deficit, and then won 1-0 against Grafton in the sectional final to reach state.
Junior Estevan Colin leads the team with 11 goals this season, while Jonathan Diaz has nine and Alan Mendez and Octavio Valadex each scored seven.
Delavan-Darien is making its 10th appearance in the state tournament and first since 2017. It will look for its fourth state championship (2000, 2014, 2016).