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After two straight sectional final losses, Memorial girls soccer ready to break through

For the past three seasons, Eau Claire Memorial girls soccer has been knocking on the door of its first trip to state since 2016. The Old Abes reached sectional semifinals in 2021 before being knocked out by Hudson, but Memorial got even closer in the next two years.

In 2022, the Old Abes were 12-4-3 and just one win away from a trip to their 10th state tournament appearance. Instead, De Pere won 3-1 and went to its sixth state tournament.

One year later, Memorial was in the same situation. A win over Bay Port would send the Old Abes to Milwaukee, but again they were denied. Bay Port was victorious by a 3-0 margin and Memorial was left with the bitter taste of defeat once again.

Now the Abes are back on the pitch. A big chunk of the team has returned and Memorial isn’t shying away from the fact that it has unfinished business. In fact, the Old Abes are embracing it.

“Two years in a row making the sectional final and falling short has definitely been a good motivator for us,” Memorial head coach Olivia Mroczenski said. “The girls have worked really hard and I think what’s really helped is that we’ve maintained a lot of talent throughout the past couple years.”

Memorial did graduate eight players from last season’s team — including All-Big Rivers first team selection Ella Herman — but still has plenty of production back in the fold. The Old Abes have three senior team captains this year in forward Aurora Woodford and defenders Annika Skolos and Sydney Monson.

Monson was also an All-Big Rivers first teamer. The Old Abes feature Lydia Paulmier — an all-conference second team selection as a freshman — and Ashlynn Schroeder, a junior who has been the Memorial goalkeeper since her freshman year.

Mroczenski noted that there’s a good number of younger players being asked to step into bigger roles, but the transition has largely gone off without a hitch so far.

“I’ve been really happy being able to watch the girls with their ball movement, their ability to communicate, and getting the ball up the field,” The Memorial head coach said. “The main thing that we’re looking for is getting the ball in the back of the net and rewarding that hard work that they’ve had from the back moving forward.”

The Old Abes are off to a good start this season. Memorial is 3-1-2 in its first six games including a 3-0-1 mark in conference play. The Old Abes lone loss came on the road to Arrowhead who is currently the top ranked Division 1 team in the latest WSCA Girls Soccer State Rankings.

In conference play, the Old Abes are outscoring their opponents 15-2 this season. That margin is due in large part to knocking off Chippewa Falls 5-1 and Superior 6-0 in Memorial’s two latest league contests.

“I think the benefit that we truly have is that all the girls do share a lot of success,” Mroczenski said. “That’s from top down, the girls just love each other, work together, and all have that shared mindset that we want to get to the end this year. And we’re capable of it.”

Memorial isn’t shying away from its goal this year. The Old Abes want to hoist a gold ball in June.

While many teams like to leave the previous year behind them, Memorial is using the sting of two straight sectional final losses as fuel in its quest to Milwaukee.

“All the girls in our program in general, we all have that gold ball in mind,” Mroczenski said. “It has been a big motivator, but the girls, they’re all here for the right reason. They all love the game. They all love each other and they share in that and being able to work together [while] owning their own role, which really helps contribute to that team success.”

While the Old Abes know where they want their story to end, they’re borrowing a mantra from the show Ted Lasso for the journey there. Mroczenski says Memorial is focused on “being a goldfish” which means focusing on what’s important and going “game by game, moment by moment” throughout the season.

Will it pay off for the Old Abes? That remains to be seen, but Memorial is clearly a determined group and is unapologetic about what it wants to accomplish.