Gavino Perez and his teammates understand that any match this season could wind up being their last.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the Southern Lakes Conference boys soccer teams to play only league matches this fall. And health officials and school districts continue to monitor the situation locally on a constant basis.
Under normal circumstances, the Elkhorn boys soccer team would have its sights set on returning to the WIAA Division 2 state tournament for the second year in a row. In these times, though, the main goal for Perez and his fellow seniors is to four-peat as Southern Lakes champions.
The Elks took a big early step toward that feat Thursday night. Perez scored one goal and assisted on two others to help Elkhorn knock off archrival and fellow perennial state tournament contender Delavan-Darien, 3-1, at Elkhorn Area High School.
“It’s definitely all unpredictable,” Perez said. “This season was tough; we lost a lot of seniors. But at the same time, we grind and work hard. We overcame them (Delavan-Darien), and now we’ve got to four-peat.”
Outside of a limited crowd that was asked to socially distance and wear masks, the derby match felt just like a normal rivalry meeting. It came complete with physical play, plenty of whistles and half a dozen yellow cards handed out.
The teams traded goals in the opening 25 minutes.
Elkhorn scored when Perez’s corner kick was cleared back out to him and he booted it back into the mix in front of the goal. Senior Marco Perez connected on a header rebound to put the Elks up in the 11th minute.
Delavan-Darien answered 14 minutes later. Senior defender Adrian Fonseca sent a long, high ball forward up the middle of the field, catching the Elks’ back line off-guard.
Junior Yuniel Rodriguez jumped and got his head on it and tied the game at 24:45.
But the Elks got all the momentum back just before—literally—halftime. A long throw-in into the scoring box resulted in Ray Beilman scoring one second before the clock reached 45:00.
“We told the boys that we had to be dominant on the dead balls and set pieces,” first-year Elkhorn coach Jordan Kayser said. “Because when it comes to play, there’s not going to be much of it. Every time we play against each other (Elkhorn and Delavan-Darien), it’s pretty sloppy, physical, and there’s not a lot of combination passing.
“So dead ball stuff, you’ve got to be razor sharp.”
The Elks were just that once again midway through the second half when they added an insurance goal. Senior Luke Schoeneberg served a corner kick in that found the head of Gavino Perez, who added a goal of his own to his two first-half assists.
“It was stuff we practiced and talked about, but I think we get panicked, because we’re still a young team,” Delavan-Darien coach Mike Marse said. “I think the intensity gets to us. I think we get a little out of how we want to play, because we get a little too excited.
“It was definitely a learning game for us today.”
The hope for the two teams—which each won their openers Tuesday night—is that they might meet again in a Southern Lakes tournament in a few weeks.
The league is playing a round-robin seven-game schedule and then is scheduled to play its usual conference tournament, where the top four teams are bracketed together to decide the conference champion.
For now, Kayser—who took the head coaching reins this season from his father, BZ—was pleased to walk away with his first rivalry victory.
“Every time we play them, it’s just a complete battle. And then on top of that, we’re battling COVID,” Kayser said. “Then you’ve got to play these guys right away this first week.
“But I don’t take this, or anything, for granted. It’s pretty awesome to be able to win this first rivalry game. You never know when you’ll be able to do this again.”
Perez and the Elks hope they’ll at least be able to keep doing it a couple more weeks.
“Winning conference (is the main goal),” he said. “So we’ve just got to keep grinding. If we lose a game, it might be our last game ever.”
ELKHORN 3, DELAVAN-DARIEN 1
Delavan-Darien 1 0—1
Elkhorn 2 1—3
E—Marco Perez (Gavino Perez), 10:41. DD—Yuniel Rodriguez (Adrian Fonseca), 24:45. E—Ray Beilman (G. Perez), 44:59.
E—G. Perez (Luke Schoeneberg), 67:29.
Saves—Hector Flores (DD) 2, Joe Griswold (E) 4.