By Steve Hill
May 15, 2018
Wisconsin Rapids — Fans expecting a high school girls’ soccer contest were instead treated to a veritable summer camp of games Tuesday night, getting everything except a goal as Wisconsin Rapids held the SPASH Panthers to a scoreless tie that took the Red Raiders out of first place in the Wisconsin Valley Conference race.
While the first half looked like a game of keep-away in which the Raiders were content to let SPASH pass the ball around but rarely come near the net, the second half was a combination of track meet and amateur WWF extravaganza, complete with a reverse body-slam at midfield.
“That was a good, physical battle, and we had our opportunities and just didn’t capitalize on them,” said Panthers head coach Allie Rogesheske, whose team is now 7-2-3 overall for the year. “But c’est la vie. That’s how it goes sometimes, and it was a good game.”
Although the more spectacular plays involved SPASH attackers losing out to Rapids defenders, both teams got in their licks in a relatively whistle-free battle. The end result was a very physical draw that knocked Rapids from first to second and SPASH from a second-place tie to third in the WVC race, a little more than halfway through a shortened league season that will end next week.
Meanwhile, D.C. Everest, tied with SPASH at 6 points in the table as the night started, moved into first with 9 points after its 3-0 win over Wausau West Tuesday.
It was also the sixth consecutive game against archrival Rapids without a win for SPASH, including two straight ties, dating back to 2015.
Had a game MVP been chosen, it likely would have been Rapids goalie Miranda Nieman, who had three game-saving stops in the second half.
“It was super intense. My adrenalin was going the whole time. During halftime my hands were just shaking,” Nieman said. “They had some really good shots on goal tonight, but I just happened to be there.”
SPASH came very close to scoring four times, but only once in the first half.
That came when Lauren Johnson took a nice pass between two defenders near the scoring circle, turned toward the goal and found herself in an easy one-on-one situation with Nieman. Although Johnson slotted an easy ball into the left side of the net, she was offside at the start of the pass, nullifying the play.
SPASH junior midfielder Abby Gemza, victim of the uncalled play near the ball in which a Rapids defender wrapped her up and wrenched her over backwards in the second half, had two excellent scoring opportunities in that half from near the left end line.
On the first, which came in the 56th minute, Gemza broke free from two defenders on another one-on-one play and lined a shot toward the goal, but Nieman reacted quickly with a wonderful kick save at the near post, resulting in a harmless SPASH corner kick.
Gemza found herself in a similar situation at the end of the 60th minute, knocking down a defender in the scoring area and lining a nice pass across the goal mouth to Grace Smith, who hit it back to the near post but watched helplessly as Nieman made a flying horizontal save to keep the game scoreless.
Afterwards, Gemza just grinned and credited the Raiders for a game well played.
“We tried, and things happened, but gotta get the next one, right?” Gemza said. “They’re definitely our biggest rival.”
Rapids never really got off a good shot, despite getting several sprinting downfield counterattacks in the second half after coach Nate Cleveland loosened up the offensive game plan. In every case, speedy back-line defenders, especially SPASH’s Sierra Hefferan, were able to catch up to the Raider attackers to blunt the charge.
The Panthers had one more excellent chance on a long counter in the 82nd. Kaylin Kostuchowksi broke free on a long pass with only trailing defenders, but Neiman charged out and bowled Kostuchowski over just outside the scoring area, sparking a great deal of complaining from visiting SPASH fans but again no call.
“If I didn’t come out for that, they would have scored,” Nieman said. “I got the wind knocked out of me and my knee hurts quite a bit, but it’s part of the game.”
On her end, Rogesheske had no complaints about the play.”When you’re a coach, that’s what you want your goalie to do, to come out hard,” she said.
Cleveland said of Nieman, “She has no fear. She makes lightning-quick decisions about coming off the line. You saw that tonight with the one-v-one and the 50-50 play. Her hands are about as supple as I’ve ever seen a keeper’s, so we’re real pleased with her.”
Despite the heavily physical nature of the game, even by Rapids-SPASH standards, there were no apparent hard feelings by either team after the contest and an unusual amount of between-team hugs and postgame conversation.
“It was nice to connect with them again,” said SPASH defender Julia Moder. “And it’s also nice to put your heart out there and fight to the end. It’s definitely frustrating to put that effort in and not get there, but we’re only going to get better from here.”
Nieman was credited with six saves, while Bergen Beversdorf of SPASH had three.
Cleveland said his players did an excellent job of preparing for SPASH’s offensive players and neutralizing them. “Overall, I’m pleased with the effort and organization,” he said.
Regarding the physical nature of the game, he simply said, “Yeah. You know, it’s Rapids-SPASH. You see them colliding with each other, and then most of them still hug each other. Underneath all of that game fever, when the game’s over, both teams are willing to let it go.”