Story and photo by Steve Hill
Aug. 31, 2017
Stevens Point — The score looked like one team got schooled, but it was still a learning experience for both Wisconsin Valley Conference opponents trying to find their identities early in the season.
The Marshfield Tigers, with only four seniors on their varsity roster, visited the rebuilding SPASH Panthers at the Portage County Youth Soccer complex in a matchup of the two WVC teams who suffered the heaviest losses to graduation after the 2016 season. SPASH came out on the winning end with a mercy-rule, 10-0 romp that still lasted almost all the way to the 90th minute in new head coach Derek Bell’s first home game for the Panthers.
“It’s still early. We’ve got a lot of new faces and things we need to work on,” Bell said. “Every game is going to provide learning experiences, and we’re definitely looking to be more consistent.”
Learning to handle what other teams throw at them and being resilient are other important characteristics Bell is looking for from his team, he said, and overall, the Panthers bounced back well from their 1-0 road loss Tuesday to Wausau West, which fell to Wisconsin Rapids, 3-0, in Rapids on Thursday night.
“Building that resiliency, tonight, was as important as the quality of play. We were resilient, we weathered attacks, and we kept a shutout, which was one of our goals for the night,” Bell said.
Marshfield coach Steve McCann, while not thrilled with the outcome, said his team took what it could from the experience.
“It was definitely a learning curve for some of the guys, the speed and intensity of a varsity contest,” he said. “We had multiple sophomores and some freshmen playing, but we’re going to get better as the season goes.”
SPASH jumped out to a 9-0 lead by the 50th with fast starts in both halves. Even though they didn’t let off the gas in the latter stages, the Panthers couldn’t quite end the contest until senior Ricky Perez, a newcomer to the squad, blasted a long shot from the middle in the 86th minute.
Perez, who ran cross country for SPASH last fall but has played soccer his entire life, scored four goals and had one assist to lead his team, while veteran Keondre Porter, the only returning starter among the team’s seniors, scored a pair and added an assist.
Junior Ethan Kane notched three assists as SPASH evened its WVC record to 1-1 and its overall record to 2-2. Marshfield, which had a bye during Tuesday’s opening day in the seven-team WVC, is 0-1 and 1-2 overall.
While there was plenty of action to go around during the game, it started and ended with Perez, who scored three long goals from either beyond or just inside the penalty area and whose first shot, in the second minute, didn’t quite go in but was rebounded in by Porter.
“Ricky had, from like 35 yards out, a banger, and the keeper couldn’t handle it. I just ran up and finished it,” said Porter. “We’re still figuring things out, but we’ve got a lot of talent that I’m excited about. I can see us going far this year.”
The fast start continued when the Panthers got a corner kick in the 8th minute, with the set piece resulting in a free ball in the scoring area that junior Brendan Leahy got to senior Benny Yang, who lobbed a shot just underneath the crossbar for the 2-0 lead.
Perez then got his first goal in the 18th, taking a long pass from Kane and zipping down the right side, spinning past a defender and placing the ball perfectly across the goal mouth to the back-left corner of the goal.
“The one where Ethan Kane played it over the top and I put it into the far post — that was my favorite,” he said, adding that it was a thrill just to be playing for the Panthers, much less having such a big first game at home.
“I have no words,” he said. “It feels good.”
Porter got his second goal just three minutes later from almost the identical spot, knocking in a well-placed header to make it 4-0.
Kane and Perez teamed up again in the 27th to make it 5-0 on a Perez crossing shot from left to right. Sophomore Isaac Williams got into the act after Kane rocketed a hard shot from distance on the left side that was nicely saved, but a richochet off the Marshfield goalie was picked up by Williams and lofted back into the far post from the right, making it 6-0 at the half.
The Panthers opened the second half as if they were trying to get home for an early bedtime. Yang got his second goal off a Porter assist in the 47th minute. In the 49th, Perez picked off a ball about 40 yard from his goal, dribbled a few steps and around a defender, and then boomed a shot in from about 22 yards to make it 8-0. Less than a minute later, he found sophomore Lio Perkins, who shot it home from the left side for a 9-0 score.
At that point, it didn’t look like the game would last even 60 minutes, but the Tiger defense stiffened and didn’t let up until Perez put the finishing touches on the game 36 minutes later.
Despite the score, McCann said his players did several things well, including switching from a 4-5-1 to a 4-3-3 formation and never giving up against the Panther’s quick midfield play.
“They say that the field is an extension of the classroom, and it’s all about education,” he said, concluding, with a laugh, “We got very well educated tonight.”