By KELLY FENTON
The Denmark News
DENMARK – In its quest for its first playoff win in six years – and only second in school history – the Denmark girls soccer team got a little more than was expected against 3-11 Elkhart Lake-Glenbeulah in the opening round of the D4 regionals on Thursday afternoon in Denmark.
The Vikings went into intermission tied 1-1 despite outshooting the Resorters by a whopping 23-3 margin.
But the defense put the clamps on talented Elkhart forward Haley Mersberger and corner-kick specialist Autumn Kaminski provided the winning margin with a hooking corner kick that found the back right of the net 17 minutes into the second half and Denmark held on for a 2-1 victory. The Vikings won their only playoff game in 2013.
“Autumn has done that a couple of times this year,” said Denmark coach Travis Lange. “We were counting on her. She’s our go-to in free kicks and corner kicks. We won the Fox Valley Lutheran game the same way this year. She dropped one right in front for her sister (Chloe) and she tapped it in.”
The six seed Vikings travel to three seed Random Lake on Saturday for a 3:30 game at Kohler High School.
Denmark, which is enjoying one of its best seasons ever after finishing second in the North Eastern Conference and improving to 11-3-3 overall, fell behind 1-0 when the speedy and skilled Mersberger outran the defense and found herself one on one with Denmark goalie Jessica Heraly. The diving Heraly got a left hand on Mersberger’s rocket but it caromed into the right side.
Mersberger came into the game accounting for 13 of her team’s 24 goals this season so she was an obvious focus of attention.
“We knew about her and we were confident that our defense would hold,” Lange said. “Our midfield is our strength and so our plan was to lock her up and win the battle of the midfield and press forward as a team. (Mersberger) is very fast and our center back cut back at full speed and overran her, and she got an easy shot on goal and she put it away.”
Denmark responded with wave after wave of attack at the other end in a bid to square things. All were foiled. But with a little more than 15 minutes left in the half, powerful midfielder Claire Sipple won a battle at midfield and immediately sent one deep for Chloe Kaminski, who used her dribbling skills to angle for a left footer from 12 yards that tied the game.
“When we were behind, I did feel a little pressure,” Lange admitted. “We had a number of games like that this year where we get a high number of shots but just can’t finish. It felt like it was going that way and we ended up tying those games. You don’t want that in the playoffs.”
Elkhart got a couple of early chances in the second half, with Heraly stopping a rocket five minutes in. That was followed by Madilyn Kolarik’s near breakthrough near the top of the box when the Elkhart goalie just barely beat her to the ball and was able to cover up.
Autumn Kaminski lined up for a corner kick from the left corner with 27:52 left in the game and sent a solid arcing shot that kept bending, eventually eluding the outstretched hands of the goalie, who was busy looking to protect against headers and caroms.
Though Denmark controlled the action for much of the rest of the way, the Resorters didn’t go away. The biggest moment defensively came when defender Natalie Otradovec was stride for stride with a streaking Mersberger down the left sideline with about four minutes left. Mersberger used her dribbling skills to send the ball forward and chase it down, eventually setting up for a cross or a charge from the left wing where anything might happen. But Otradovec held strong, got position and gained control of the ball before Mersberger could make her move.
“She’s our best defender,” Lange said of Otradovec. “They were neck and neck that whole run. Natalie is a very physical defender, so we were counting on that. We talked to her at halftime about how to handle (Mersberger’s) speed. It’s tough to stop a player like that who can finish and is that fast. Natalie did a great job.”
Denmark finished with a remarkable – and season-high – 48 shots on goal. Lange didn’t necessarily see that as a good thing.
“That’s our problem right now,” he said. “We’ve been finding ways to win so as a coach you can’t be too unhappy. But we definitely gotta improve on that because as we go through the tournament, teams aren’t going to give you that many shots.”
Heraly recorded five saves for Denmark.