DE PERE — The last two seasons the De Pere girls soccer team has at least reached the Division 1 state semifinals, including a state championship game appearance in 2012.
Teams that usually make runs like this do it with a veteran group, but in De Pere’s case that’s not the case. De Pere has 11 juniors on this year’s team, some of which keyed those runs, as once again the Redbirds look formidable.
The Redbirds recorded a 10-0 win Wednesday against Green Bay East, with four goals coming from Alek Kleis, and afterwards she said this year’s team compares to the last two teams she was on.
“I think it’s the same,” said Kleis. “I think everyone on the team has the same amount of skill and work ethic. I love the team.”
“They understand what it takes to get things done,” coach Andy Steger said. “It still comes down to execution and coming down to opportunities.”
De Pere (7-3-3, 3-1) has not lost in its last seven games, posting a 5-0-2 record and is one loss behind Green Bay Preble (7-0 FRCC) in the loss column in the race for the Fox River Classic Conference title.
De Pere’s loss in conference came to Preble on a rainy night, so it needs help to at least gain a share of the FRCC. However, the Redbirds are also looking further ahead to a possible third straight state tournament appearance.
That’s where it gets interesting as De Pere has dropped to Division 2, where four teams make state compared to eight in Division 1. Furthermore, De Pere isn’t the only notable team to drop to Division 2 this season.
Three of the final four teams in Division 1 last year fell to Division 2, and in addition to De Pere, Waukesha West and Cedarburg also dropped down. West beat De Pere last year, 3-1, in a state semifinal and De Pere beat Cedarburg this season, 2-1.
Dropping down a division likely didn’t make things easier.
“There are still quality teams we have to get through,” Steger said. “We have to get through Cedarburg (in a sectional final) to get to state.”
De Pere is ready for the challenge, however, and one reason is Kleis. She’s been a scorer since her freshman season and Wednesday her four-goal outing showed what she’s capable of.
Despite scoring a lot, it never gets old.
“I think it’s amazing; I get the chills with every goal I make,” the junior said. “I also like to help my teammates score.”
That’s evident also. Kleis was also in an assist mode Wednesday, with beautiful crosses that led to two scores.
“She creates a lot for us,” Steger said. “She’s having to learn a different style of game knowing people are going to mark her with one or two players. She works incredibly hard.
“She also has a good cast around her. She knows she doesn’t have to do it all for us.”
And that’s what makes De Pere so good. The Redbirds have plenty of options to score and with the experience of this team making state the last two seasons, De Pere is focused on a hat trick, of sorts, reaching state once again.
“We have 11 juniors on this squad who have been in the state championship or a state qualifying game in their career,” Steger said. “There are only three seniors … our juniors know what to expect.
“We came out first game of the season and beat Cedarburg 2-1, so I think we’re ready for the postseason.”
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay