Prep boys soccer: Verona wraps up a historic Big Eight campaign with a victory over Sun Prairie
VERONA — The Big Eight Conference boys soccer title already had been secured.
But Verona junior midfielder Jack Knight and his teammates wanted to finish the league season in winning fashion Thursday night.
Knight, returning this season after suffering a stress fracture in his back as a sophomore, scored a goal and added an assist in leading Verona to a 2-0 victory over Sun Prairie in windy, 41-degree conditions at Reddan Soccer Park’s Goodman Pitch.
The Wildcats (12-1-3 overall, 7-0-2 Big Eight), fourth in Division 1 in the Wisconsin Soccer Coaches Association state rankings, sealed their first Big Eight crown with a tie against Madison East on Tuesday.
“It’s very exciting,” said Verona coach Chris Handrick, whose team earned a top seed in the upcoming WIAA postseason. “It’s fun to be able to build that new identity with the school, especially being able to in a conference that is probably the toughest in the state. So they have that title, which is very, very exciting. The boys wanted this one … and to finish the conference season without a loss.”
Verona’s 11th shutout of the season topped off a Senior Night celebration.
“Honestly, it’s just a huge achievement for the school,” Knight said. “Last year, we got second place (behind Madison East) and it was really close. Winning it this year is like the cherry on top. It’s just a great feeling, and especially since we are mostly juniors this season, it’s good for future seasons.”
Knight gathered in an errant cross by the Cardinals (11-5-2, 5-3-1) and scored from in front at the 14-minute, 49-second mark, then assisted on junior midfielder Gannon Simonett’s goal at 23:38.
“(Knight) healed in the offseason and he’s been like a brand-new puppy,” Handrick said. “It’s fun to watch him as he continues to try to find his nose toward the goal.”
Knight said his playing time has increased after easing into the start of the season.
“Once I got back into it, I started playing better,” Knight said. “I tried to push myself more.”
The Wildcats’ stingy defense — led by juniors Sam Lynch and Tavion McNuckle, senior Mason Jordan and freshman Brooks Luttinen — limited eighth-ranked Sun Prairie to one shot on goal.
With Verona already having wrapped up the title and playoff seeding completed, Sun Prairie coach Tok Kim said he decided to rest standout senior striker Kyle Hagerman, who sustained a minor hip injury in Tuesday’s 1-1 tie with Madison West.
Hagerman, a Butler University commit, is second in the state in goals (41) and points (94). Senior defender Ebrima Sallah also was sidelined, Kim said.
“They are a good team,” Kim said. “We started out slowly and we gave up the first foolish goal. They had the momentum and scored a quick two goals. … In the second half, we both played hard. They are a very good team. They played really well as a team. We were missing some key players and our chemistry was a little off.”
The Wildcats’ only loss this season came in a non-conference game against McFarland. Their two ties in conference play came against Madison West and Madison East. Verona closes the regular season against Hartland Arrowhead on Saturday.
Verona, the No. 1 seed in the sectional, then will host 16th-seeded Janesville Parker on Tuesday, while fifth-seeded Sun Prairie will be home for a match against 12th-seeded Lake Geneva Badger.
Sun Prairie 0 0 — 0
Verona 2 0 — 0
First half: V – Knight, 14:49; Simonett (Knight), 23:38.
Saves: SP (Traut 2, Scherer 4) 6; V (Ohm 1, Hanson 0) 1.