DE PERE, Wis: (WFRV) – It’s been a season like no other for virtually every athlete who are taking part in all of the alternate spring sports, and each of them know that nothing can be taken for granted.
“In the fall we had a get-together to see if we were going to play, and we weren’t even sure if we’re gonna play at all, so to get out here and even have one playoff game is amazing,” said Center back Robbie Collins. “Now that we’re going to state, I think we kind of realize that this year was really important. We didn’t know if it was going to happen, so we gave it our all and tried to make the most of it, and here we are.” Goalie Jack Rosner added, “Just because it’s unique, doesn’t mean that it’s still not special and a once in a lifetime experience. We’ve all been working for this for four years. I know Dusty (Rhodes) has been coaching most of us since we were like 10 years old, and we’ve all been playing together for a super long time. So getting an opportunity like this and to experience this all together in our final season is pretty special.”
The De Pere boys soccer team beat Green Bay Preble 1-0 in the sectional final to advance to the D1 semifinals. With time running out in the second half, the Hornets had one final scoring opportunity by Brady Bosacki, but his would-be game-tying shot was deflected by Redbirds goalie Jack Rosner as time expired to preserve the victory.
“We knew there was no time left, so basically our idea in the last seconds was just get the ball out,” said Rosner. “I guess I knew going down the stretch that I’d have to come up big one more time to make sure we got through, and that was the moment I made the save.”
De Pere head coach Dusty Rhodes added, “It’s what makes games like that special. When you have that final 30 seconds of everyone holding their breath. What’s going to happen? What’s the outcome going to be? To be honest, with about 25 seconds to go, the ball was on their end and I was feeling pretty comfortable, but that’s the way soccer goes sometimes. Six or seven seconds later I was on the edge of my seat, actually at the edge of the sideline trying to see what was going on. Jack just followed his footwork and he’s a very athletic keeper, all the sudden you see an arm pop up from behind the defender and knock it over the goal and it was ‘OK here we go, we’re going.’ That’s when the celebration began and it was a lot of fun. Those are the highlight reels that goalkeepers love to have and put on film for anybody to see. Being a hurdler for track, you know he’s got some ‘ups,’ and he displayed them in that game.”
De Pere (11-1-3) placed third in the Fox River Classic Conference and will be making its eighth overall appearance at State, and the previous seven appearances came in the traditional fall season.
“We have great competition all year and there are great guys and teams in the FRCC,” said Rosner. “It prepares us all year for the playoffs to play those teams and that makes us better down the stretch and helps to get to where we are.” Rhodes added, “I feel every year we have one of the more competitive conferences in the state so you get battle-tested and you find out what your strengths and weaknesses are throughout the course of the season. One thing that will be different in a positive way is that fans are able to go and be there, which is great. Being able to bring eight people for each kid to come to the game is going to be huge. That’s more than we’ve been able to have all season, so hopefully, they’ll enjoy it too.”
It’s been 12 years since De Pere made it to State, and you would have to go back to 1993 to find their one and only championship, which they won in Division 2. Rhodes was a player on that team and the one that advanced to the title game the year before and finished as the runner-up.
“It’s crazy. I mean if you go and look at our board of our past records, the last time we went to state championship was in the ’90s. It’s just been forever since we’ve been to State, it’s been 12 years,” said Rosner. “It just feels great to get the program up to something special and that our whole team has bonded together, and I hope it’s going to help bring the program to bigger things in the future.” Rhodes added, “We’re a very senior-laden team with 12 and a lot of these guys have been playing together since they were U-11 and U-12, so it’s a really special group. They show up and work hard every day in practice and we push them and they really really enjoy being with each other. I think sometimes that gets to be a lost component of a team, is how well the players get along with each other, on and off the field. And this group hangs out all the time, 24-7, so we have a chance and that’s all we can ask for. Hopefully will be able to come home with the ball.”
The Redbirds will face Waunakee (12-1-2) in Kewaskum at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 15, and if they advance they would face the winner between top-seeded Appleton North and Racine Horlick.
“I see it in the kids. They are so appreciative of the opportunity to be able to have this season. We have quite a few seniors, so in the fall they thought maybe they weren’t going to get their final season in high school that they had been building for their whole career,” said Rhodes. “So when it was finally announced that we were going to have this alternate spring season, you could just see how focused they were from the get-go, and how much they enjoy every moment together. Every practice. You can tell there’s something special about it, just having the opportunity.
Obviously, you’re looking to compete and to win, but you’re also trying to make sure the kids have a good time, and they will have memories to talk about in 20 years. It’s definitely been more enjoyable for me this year, because it’s a little bit less focus on the wins, and more on about the overall team, so that’s fun.”