One halftime adjustment at a recent Janesville Craig girls soccer match caught at least one opposing fan by surprise.
“Oh, look at that, they’re switching keepers,” a Verona fan said after the first 45 minutes of a WIAA Division 1 regional final last weekend.
For opponents getting a first look at the Cougars, the swap surely is a surprise. Few soccer teams with players in high school or older switch keepers mid-game unless something has gone drastically wrong. And some of the best high school teams find it a luxury if they have one highly capable keeper—let alone two.
Yet that’s the case for the Cougars, who have been ranked at times this season and now are one victory away from their first state tournament berth since 2000.
As long as both have been healthy over the last two seasons, sophomores Abbey Schrader and Maia Rowekamp have played a half apiece for Craig. And that’ll likely be the case again today when the fourth-seeded Cougars play at second-seeded Kettle Moraine in a 5 p.m. sectional final game.
“It definitely helps, because they’re both fresh and they’re both ready and they're both focused,” Craig sophomore center back Hannah Dunlavy said. “They play a little bit different (from one another), but we’re used to that. And they play to our strength, communicate with us and help direct the field.
“They’re a huge asset to the team.”
It hasn’t hurt that Schrader and Rowekamp have a solid defensive back line in front of them.
The defense is bolstered by Dunlavy, a two-time first-team all-Big Eight Conference selection, and fellow center back Cassie Goswick, an honorable mention all-league choice.
But Schrader and Rowekamp have both been solid as the last line of defense. Craig has allowed just 10 goals all season in building a 13-2-4 record.
The Cougars have shut out all three postseason opponents thus far and have given up just four goals in the last 12 matches.
“They both put in the work at practice all the time; they have their own training that they do,” Craig senior captain Kaitlyn Shanks said. “It shows. It pays off.”
Never did it pay off more than during Wednesday night’s sectional semifinal at top-seeded Middleton.
Schrader got the start and made four saves in the first half. With the Cougars ahead 1-0 at halftime, Rowekamp stepped in and withstood a barrage. Middleton peppered her with 12 shots, and she turned every one of them aside to preserve the 1-0 shutout.
“I knew from all that preparation and time we’ve put in, I had no doubt Schrader wasn’t going to let anything in, and I wasn’t about to,” Rowekamp said.
Craig’s keepers will likely need to be sharp again today. Kettle Moraine is coming off a head-turning 6-2 victory over Sun Prairie. It has scored 16 goals in three postseason matches and 34 goals in its last six matches overall.
If the defense holds up once more, the two-keeper Cougars will be state bound.