By Tori Wittenbrock
Associate Sports Editor
MILWAUKEE – In their first ever appearance at the WIAA State Tournament in program history, the West De Pere boys’ soccer team took second place, falling just short to Union Grove in an 0-1 Championship game on Saturday, Nov. 4.
Phantom Head Coach Brian Kamler said that although the season ended on a loss, he is proud of the fight he saw in his team throughout the season.
“We talked all week about how special this was going to be and to enjoy the ride, knowing that it might end in a huge celebration or it might end in sorrows and sadness,” said Kamler. It could have ended on Thursday and it didn’t. We just ran out of lives.”
The West De Pere Phantoms started off the game strong, quelling an early attack from Union Grove and sneaking in a breakaway of their own from Kaveh Garania.
West De Pere’s goalkeeper Ben Woller also played a significant role in keeping the team in the game until the end, starting with a big diving save on the ground in the fifth minute.
In an aggressive game which would amass nearly 20 fouls from both teams, a collision in the air on a contested header at midfield resulted in an early free kick for West De Pere.
The Phantoms’ defensive line stopped another attempt at goal when the Broncos slotted a ball into the penalty box but defender Evan Cappelle was able to find a clearance.
In an effort to draw another penalty call, Union Grove Midfielder Peyton Hord dove in between two Phantom defenders at the top of the box and was awarded a free kick from the 18. Yet, the opportunity was squandered when the Broncos drove the ball directly into the West De Pere wall.
While Grove proceeded to focus on building out of the back and possessing, West De Pere spent much of the first half attempting to connect with their forward line through long balls over the top.
Another breakaway by Union Grove was defended by Phantom senior Braden Kelnhofer as the rest of their backline remained composed, rather than scrambling to get the ball out of the defensive third.
Woller had another big save for his team when a shot from Grove’s Ashton Ryshkus was fired into the low near post corner in the 19th minute.
A West De Pere foul at the halfline prompted Grove to build out of the back rather than relinquishing possession by having a go at goal.
Hoard leaped into the air to challenge a chipped cross and was able to get a foot on the ball to volley it on frame, but Woller came through with a save.
Moments later, Owen Zikowski found himself unmarked in the box and fired off a far post shot. Woller leaped across the face of the goal and was able to get his fingertips on the ball but it landed just inside the post for a 1-0 lead in the 29th minute.
The deficit, however, did not stop West De Pere’s composure. The Phantoms continued to possess the ball through the midfield, using give-and-goes and overlapping runs to increase their dynamic aspect of the game.
A frustrated Union Grove was prompted to foul for a malicious slide tackle in the midfield, turning the ball over for a free kick in the 35th minute.
Kelnhofer was able to take advantage of the space on the sidelines and progress down the field on a breakaway to get the ball into the attacking third.
A free kick from half field in the 40th minute dropped the ball in front of the net for a follow-up finish by Landen Arnstad. However, after conferring with the sideline, the center referee ruled the goal offsides and brought the Broncos back to a 1-0 lead going into halftime.
The Phantoms came out in the second half determined to make the most of their final opportunity to take the field this season.
A chip ball sent up to Ryan Gregor for a chance at goal was cut short with an offsides trap set by Union Grove’s defense.
Shortly after, the Broncos dropped their backline and began to hold a lower line of confrontation in an attempt to preserve their lead.
The Phantoms continued to prove their resilience, however, until the final whistle. A corner kick bounced around in the Broncos’ penalty box before eventually ending up in the hands of their keeper.
Cooper Nimmer made his reprisal to the field to provide a spark for the Phantoms’ offensive line.
A foul at the halfline in the 59th minute allowed West De Pere to take a free kick for a chance to even the score, but too much loft on the ball sent it out of bounds.
Freshman Grayson Birder attempted to find the back of the net late in the game and was close to seeing success with a bar-down shot that ricocheted off the crossbar and back into the field of play causing panic for Grove’s backline.
In the 68th minute, Kelnhofer had a low hard shot just outside the post that forced Grove’s keeper to dive but did not have enough on it to even up the score.
Despite the evident momentum shift for West De Pere, the Phantoms struggled to find a goal during the remaining 10 minutes of the match.
Finally, a collision between Jackson Zimmerman of Union Grove and Kelnhofer earned both sides a yellow card.
Though the final score of the game remained 0-1, the Phantoms succeeded in creating one of the most historic runs in the history of the West De Pere boys’ soccer program.
“You go into a season not knowing what’s going to happen towards the end, whether guys buy in or not. These guys bought into different aspects that the coaching staff was asking them to do,” said Kamler. “Then all of a sudden, we got towards the end of the season and things just started clicking all over the field. The hope is that something special comes out of it. It’s not special losing, but it’s not a game that we were out played or anything like that.”
The Phantoms proved their strength on and off the field this season, according to Kamler.
“I knew all along they were a resilient group. We talked about them seizing opportunity and this group did it. We just weren’t able to change the course of it today. It’s just the way sports go unfortunately,” said Kamler.