WAUNAKEE — After upending Big 8 Conference winner Madison Memorial on penalty kicks in the regional semifinals, Watertown set its sights on state second-ranked Waunakee.
The Goslings showed they could compete with the Warriors but lacked the firepower to score at the same pace.
Eighth-seeded Watertown got its lone goal from junior forward Alayna Clark just before halftime before top-seeded Waunakee scored two second-half goals in a 4-1 WIAA Division 1 regional final victory at Waunakee High School on Saturday.
Senior forward Sarah McLaughlin scored on a ground cross into the middle from senior forward Maddie Farnsworth in the 23rd minute. Less than two minutes later, senior midfielder Josie Bono scored on junior midfielder Isabelle Barmore’s corner kick.
“The tough part is that they don’t have weak spots,” Watertown junior forward Anna Schroeder said of the Warriors. “You have to play well all over the field. You have to attack all over the place and work the ball throughout the field and not just up one area.”
Watertown (12-6) adjusted its lineup to move Schroeder and Clark more to the outside. The move paid dividends on Clark’s goal that was assisted by sophomore forward Autumn Meyers in the 43rd minute.
“We did switch our lineup a little bit,” Watertown girls soccer coach Julie Muse said. “We put Anna and Alayna on the outsides to beat their outsides. That’s what led to the goal. We were just able to possess our passes and crash in the middle. It was all working together.”
Clark converted from a tough angle on the right side of the box.
“Honestly, I didn’t know it was a goal (at first),” Muse said. “I thought it might have been on the top. We hit three passes in a row there that were crisp to the spot and she put it in from a pretty difficult angle into the corner.”
Schroeder had a free kick stopped early in the second half and hit the crossbar with a shot in the 49th minute as the Goslings looked for the equalizer.
The team managed 12 shots on goal, taking four corner kicks, but only got one past Waunakee senior goalie Alyssa Kuhn.
McLaughlin scored again off a Farnsworth assist in the 55th minute. Freshman midfielder Lexis Savola scored on a pass from the top of the box by Farnsworth with 15 minutes remaining.
“We came out with a lot of energy after halftime after scoring that goal late in the first half,” Schroeder said. “That gave us some momentum and we were able to focus a little more for the first part of the second half. We just started to wear down a little bit. They were connecting passes well on the midfield and it was just tough to shut it down. Overall, I think we played hard.”
For the Goslings, there’s still plenty to be pleased about after a double-digit win season and third-place showing in the Badger South with a mark of 5-2.
“We have a lot to be proud of and a lot that we can build on moving forward,” Schroeder said. “It’s been a good season and I’ve been happy to be a part of it.”
“They’re young, but we’ve been successfully working the program in the right direction,” Muse said. “Being able to beat Memorial was a great lift for us. Waunakee’s a good team and No. 1 seed. It’s not like they walked all over us. It was a good, competitive game.”
Winter Harmsen, Watertown’s senior goalie, had seven saves and also played a big role in the regional semis victory.
“There was a lot of pressure,” Harmsen said of the penalty kicks versus Madison Memorial on Tuesday. “They were definitely a hard match and one of the best teams we had played all season. Saving three (penalty kicks) felt great and was a great moment for me. (Danielle Weissenrieder) was the one who scored the winning shot which was just this euphoric moment for the entire team.”
Harmsen was out of the lineup earlier in the season after relocating back to the area and has helped fine-tune the skills of two new goalkeepers, sophomore Jadyn Zechzer and freshman Nalla Cypher.
“It was interesting,” Harmsen said of the early portion of the season. “I couldn’t start out because I had missed some attendance after moving to China. Getting back in was definitely a little bit of a culture shock.
“We had two new goalies (Nalla Cypher and Jadyn Zechzer) sign on this year. They’ve been doing great, I’ve been working with them. They have really improved. I think we are in good shape as far as goalies for the future. As a team, we’ve been improving these last two years. Our program is definitely on the upwards, so it’s been great.”
Watertown will also depart senior defensemen Cecelia Hickey and Bailey Coughlin.
The Goslings though will have a strong core back in the mix as they looked to continue the program’s upward trend that a single result can’t change.
“We knew going in that Waunakee was ranked highly in the state, making it a tough game that was hard to go into with a strong mentality,” Schroeder said. “We did a good job of keeping our composure and just not fearing a challenge.”
Waunakee improves to 16-2-2 and will host fifth-seeded Wales Kettle Moraine in a sectional semifinal game on Thursday at 7 p.m.
WAUNAKEE 4, WATERTOWN 1
Watertown 1 0 — 1
Waunakee 2 2 — 4
First half — WAU, McLaughlin (Farnsworth), 22:00; Bono (Barmore), 25:00; WTN, Clark (Meyers), 42:00.
Second half — WAU, McLaughlin (Farnsworth), 54:00; Savola (Farnsworth), 74:00.
Saves — WTN (Harmsen) 7, WAU (Kuhn) 9.
Shots on goal — WTN 12, WAU 26.
Corner kicks — WTN 4, WAU 5.