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Craig's Abby Membrino (5), left, runs with the ball as a Verona defender follows Tuesday, April 23, 2019, at Craig High School in Janesville.

For the second straight season, the Janesville Craig girls soccer team is in the thick of the title race in the Big Eight Conference.

But the Cougars don’t quite control their own destiny.

Successfully navigating a brutal closing stretch of games would certainly increase their chances of winning the league, but they’ll also need some other results to fall their way.

Craig is one of four teams within striking distance of league-leading Sun Prairie as the Big Eight season enters its final two weeks.

The Cougars (7-4-0, 4-1-0 Big Eight) are a point behind Sun Prairie (4-0-1). Middleton (3-0-2) is third, followed by Madison West (3-1-1) and Madison Memorial (3-1-1).

Three of Craig’s final four league games will come against teams in the top five. And a nonconference match with No. 2-ranked Waunakee looms tonight.

There’s still plenty of work to be done.

“Big time. This week’s going to be a difficult week for us,” Craig coach Bill McCabe said Sunday. “Every single team is a quality team.”

Road games against Madison East (Tuesday) and Middleton (Thursday) await this week. The Cougars will likely need to win both matches to ensure they’ll be playing for something next week against Madison West (May 14) and Madison Memorial (May 16).

Elite defending has defined Craig’s success in recent seasons. But the Cougars have been a little leakier this year than in the past. They’ve allowed 11 goals in 11 games, already matching the total they gave up in 20 games last spring.

That’s not entirely surprising given the quality of Craig’s opponents this season. D.C. Everest, Oregon and Oconomowoc, a trio of traditionally strong programs, have combined for eight goals against the Cougars. Everest is ranked No. 5 in Division 1, while Oregon is ranked No. 2 in Division 2.

A 4-0 loss to Oregon on April 9 ended Craig’s remarkable streak of 46 consecutive matches without conceding more than two goals.

Last season, Craig was alive until the final round of conference games. A 0-0 draw last May 17 against Verona mathematically eliminated the Cougars, who wound up tying the Wildcats for third in the final standings.

Middleton defeated Sun Prairie a few days later to clinch its second straight title.

The Big Eight’s schedule makers have earned their pay again this season, leaving an excess of meaningful games for the final weeks.

Here’s what each of the top five (besides Craig) have left on their conference schedules:

  • Sun Prairie: La Follette (today), Madison East (Thursday), at Middleton (May 14), at Madison West (May 16).
  • Middleton: at Parker (Tuesday), Craig (Thursday), Sun Prairie (May 14), La Follette (May 16).
  • Madison West: Beloit Memorial (Tuesday), at Parker (Thursday), at Craig (May 14), Sun Prairie (May 16).
  • Madison Memorial: at Verona (Tuesday), Beloit Memorial (Thursday), Parker (May 14), at Craig (May 16).

Strap in. These next two weeks should be interesting.

Other area races

Here’s how the rest of the area’s conference races are looking:

  • Badger South: Madison Edgewood and Oregon are running roughshod over the rest of the conference. Edgewood (5-0-0 South) has outscored opponents 35-0, while Oregon (4-0-0) boasts a 34-0 advantage. The two heavyweights are scheduled to meet Friday at Oregon.

Milton (3-1-0 South) was unbeaten in league play until a 3-0 loss to Edgewood on Friday. The Red Hawks still have a date with Oregon on May 16.

  • Rock Valley: McFarland (6-0-0 RVC) is three points clear of Big Foot/Williams Bay (5-1-0 RVC) and Evansville (5-1-0 RVC) with three rounds left.

The Spartans and ChiefDogs will play Saturday in Williams Bay in the only remaining game between the league’s top three. McFarland handled Evansville 6-0 on April 25, while the Blue Devils rebounded to sneak past the ChiefDogs, 2-1, the next day.

  • Southern Lakes: It’s looking unlikely that any team is going to catch Union Grove, but three teams—Burlington, Elkhorn and Badger—are within two points of the leaders, so the league hasn’t been decided yet.

The Broncos (9-1-1, 3-0-0 SLC) have already beaten Badger (2-1-1 SLC). They’ll host Elkhorn (2-1-1 SLC) on Thursday and travel to Burlington (2-0-2 SLC) next Tuesday.

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