Ranger girls get ready for semi-stateOctober 22, 2020
By COREY STOLZENBACH
BRETZVILLE — Forest Park girls soccer coach Brad Weyer is the first coach in program history to take his players to semi-state, but he knows the kind of teams he’s had on his hands in recent years.
“I feel like we’ve had a lot of teams in the past three-four years that I thought could reach this level,” Weyer said. “So, I’m really not too surprised judging by the progress my seniors and juniors have made over the past couple years and the hard work they’ve put in. I wouldn’t say I’m surprised, but it is a unique feeling.”
Weyer told the Herald as Forest Park was practicing on Wednesday at Cedar Crest Intermediate ahead the team’s Saturday semi-state game against Park Tudor that a lot of good teams and talented players have come through the program in his tenure, but the 2020 Rangers (13-5) gel well as a team. There isn’t one star player on Forest Park, he said, and his players have a team-first mentality.
He had a cautiously optimistic mindset going into this season because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the whole team being quarantined at the beginning of the year threw a wrench into things early on. However, the program has high expectations at the start of every year, and Weyer figured the sky was the limit for his team if the season happened and everybody stayed healthy.
“Coming into the season, getting ready for that first game (Aug. 17) against Princeton, and then getting shut down just a few hours before our season was meant to go off, you could just see the despair and the kind of hopelessness that we were feeling,” he said. “But we met in our group online meetings and the attitudes was great. I said, ‘Hey, the season’s not over. We’re going to come back and we’re going to be stronger than ever.’”
Some coaches have told the Herald during this fall sports season that their players have played for one another during these challenging times, and Weyer believes that’s exceptionally true of the 2020 Rangers. He tells his players to give 100 percent because their teammates expect the same thing out of them.
And he’s not the only one who feels these Rangers have played for one another.
“I feel like that’s been it all,” senior Linda Jacob said. “When some girls were out, we were playing our hearts out and doing our best to replace them. And then once they got back, we were just playing for each other, working as a team and really united with the time that we lost.”
It’s that teamwork that Jacob is proudest of during her historical senior season. She relishes how well Forest Park’s players have gotten along with one another. They came into practice ready to be there and that energy level has carried over to the games this season. Said energy pushed them through their games, and they kept pushing through their harder ones.
Junior Payton Dilger was along those same lines in saying that the Rangers push themselves, and they knew they could get to this point. She knew Forest Park could go places after its 2-1 overtime edge Oct. 8 of host South Spencer in the sectional semifinals.
Posting a couple of shutout wins in the Oct. 17 Forest Park regional also stood out to her, and she knows the Rangers will have to bring it against a Panthers team that has outscored their opponents, 127-14, on the season, but she knows anything can happen in the postseason.
“We need to hold our defensive line very well,” Dilger said. “They are a good scoring team.”
The Panthers are the defending Class A state champions and sit at 20-2 on the year. Forest Park is aware of the quality of competition that lies ahead on Saturday, but that's no deterrent to its mindset.
“We haven’t been nervous for anything all year,” Weyer said. “I think we were most nervous when quarantine hit. That was really what rattled us the most. Having got through that, I don’t anything can really rattle this team.”
“We have nothing to lose, we’ve made history, so might as well keep pushing our hardest and make more history and just do our best,” Jacob later said. “Anything can happen. Just because they have an awesome record doesn’t mean that we can’t beat them.”
Weyer has had his players work on the things that got them to this point — such as simple passes, finishing on frame, energy, hustle and communication.
He said that Saturday’s atmosphere at North is bound to bring a different environment than what the Rangers are used to. It’s bigger, but doesn’t think they’ll be phased. Dilger is anticipating a lot of fan support, while Jacob knows playing a new team will be nerve-racking, but she’ll be fine once she gets accustomed to the Panthers.
A berth in the Class A state championship is just 80 minutes away.
“It’d be an absolutely crazy moment — unbelievable,” Jacob said. “It would just be amazing.”
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Southridge is moving on in Sectional 48.