You can’t win if you can’t score.
And you can’t score if you can’t shoot.
That’s an unfortunate formula of defeat known all too well for many opponents the Regis/McDonell girls soccer team has faced this spring.
For as high-powered as the Saints offense can be, the defense has been the anchor for the state-bound program.
For the first time ever, Regis/McDonell will take the field on Friday afternoon in a WIAA Division 4 state semifinal at Uihlein Park in Milwaukee.
“I think the biggest change I’ve seen this year compared to previous years is the physicality and the toughness as a defense,” coach Scott Hoffmann said. “We’ve really never had that in the past.”
Coming into Friday afternoon’s tilt against Kenosha St. Joseph, the Saints have allowed just 17 goals in 18 games.
Sophomore Elena Bourget controls the front of the defensive zone, as does Aubree Hagen, while captain and field general Emily Haag, Kim Henriksen and Lily Niese clean up behind them. Not many balls get to freshman goalkeeper Anna Allen, and the commitment to defensive fundamentals has keyed the team’s run to the state tournament.
“A big part of it is understanding how to play defense too,” Haag said. “Just tactics. I think that’s one thing we really improved on from last year to this year. Learning how, even if you don’t have that physical advantage on somebody, how to understand how to get the ball from them.”
The defensive core spent a lot of time in the weight room together to get physically ready to bump girls off the ball while applying those tactics. It’s led to some strong success.
Furthermore, the group works well together.
Haag serves as the quarterback for the group, calling out plays within the system and how to attack an oncoming forward or midfielder.
“We make sure to just talk a lot,” Bourget said. “Emily is usually telling us who to mark or where to go, but then mainly just applying pressure to the ball.”
The defense had its signature performance Saturday against La Crosse Aquinas as the Saints ended the Blugolds’ three-year run to the state tournament. In the 2-1 win, McDonell/Regis got up with two goals in the first 24 minutes and then had to fend off a Blugolds team that was playing a little desperate on offense.
Bourget and Hagen man-marked the top scorers up top early, and the rest of the crew cleaned up anything behind them. If it did get all the way through for a shot on goal, Allen was there more often than not.
“It’s huge,” Allen said of her defense. “Without them, it’d be super rough. They are the ones who hold it down, and I finish it off.”
That’s not to say Allen hasn’t contributed quite a bit of her own skill, especially thriving in the sectionals. She allowed just one goal in the two sectional games.
“Against Aquinas, she played a phenomenal game, and she saved our backs a couple of times,” Haag said.
Regis/McDonell now hopes Kenosha St. Joseph will be another team frustrated by that minimal shot formula the Saints’ defense has cooked up so often this season. The Saints and Lancers kick off at 1:30 p.m. on Friday.
Regardless of what happens, this has been a special team for Hoffmann, who is in his eighth year with the program and will it end on Wisconsin high school soccer’s biggest stage.
“There’s just some great girls on this team, and they’ve worked hard,” Hoffmann said. “Some great personalities, which I’ve enjoyed as a coach, and they were driven all throughout the season.”