The Sauk Prairie High School boys’ soccer program looks at itself a bit differently than it did a year ago.
The belief is bigger after the 2020 Eagles rolled to the WIAA Division 2 state tournament for the fourth time in program history, and the first time since winning it all in 1996. While a 2-0 championship loss to Manitowoc Roncalli/Two Rivers left a bit of a sour taste in their mouths, the Eagles are carrying a new mindset into Thursday’s season-opening game at Madison East.
“I think it opened up some eyes to some possibilities of places that the program can go,” third-year coach Drew Kornish said. “That trip to state kind of opened our eyes that if we want to work for it, it’s there to be had for us.”
While Sauk Prairie’s 11-3-3 record in 2020 was dampened by teams opting out of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 schedule is loaded with talented teams like Verona, Sun Prairie, Madison West, Madison East, Mt. Horeb, Wauankee and Madison West. That’s no accident, as Sauk Prairie hopes to be tested by the time the postseason rolls around.
“We understand that in the fall there was a lot of teams we didn’t get to play, but at the same time, there were a lot of teams we did play — and we played them very well,” Kornish said. “If we can take lessons out of those games, play with those teams and get a result here and there, we’ll be well on our way come October to do something in the tournament.”
The Eagles didn’t wait until the start season to begin their preparation. While Kornish spent the spring coaching the Sauk Prairie girls’ team to state for the second time in program history, the Eagles boys got to work.
“It was really on the guys,” Kornish said. “They did a really nice job kind of taking it on themselves to make sure they’re ready to go this season. That seems to have paid off.”
Sauk Prairie also spent the offseason, tryouts and early-season practices breaking in new leaders after the graduation of Joe Baumgardt — a Wisconsin Soccer Coaches Association all-state selection — as well as Kyle Bascom, Luke Baumgardt, Kyle Been, Misael Dominguez, Elliot Drew, Jade Hilden and Brandt Wilson.
“Last year was a really unique crew,” Kornish said. “There was no designated team captain. Everybody just kind of stepped up and took responsibility for themselves, and I think the senior group really owned that thought process and made it their own.
“If we can continue that, I think that’s huge. Not necessarily that we don’t need a captain, but just from the standpoint of being accountable for your actions and the effect that has on the rest of the team can be pretty powerful. Last year’s group, everybody was responsible and making sure they did everything they could to ensure the success of the program. Hopefully that’s something that transferred to these guys.”
Even with its significant losses, Sauk Prairie returns plenty of firepower this fall. Kornish said that senior Isaac Homar stepped up to lead the Eagles through the offseason, and will play a crucial role on a team that also returns it’s top attacking threats — seniors Quinn Baier and Sam Drescher.
“Those two will obviously play huge roles in what we do going forward, but I look forward to being slightly more balanced than we were last year,” Kornish said. “Isaac Homar is also going to be somebody we look to to go forward. And Will Judge has made some massive gains. He didn’t play too much as a freshman last year, but he’s grown both physically and as a person. We look forward to what he’s going to do this year. James Fishnick has come back kind of in a different spot mentally. He played last year, but I think he’s going to play a different role for us this year. So we’ve got a bunch of guys… Elliot Carlson, he’s somebody else who is just maturing and getting older. I think we’re going to be more well-rounded.”
The back end will go through a bit of a shift with the graduation of goalkeeper Luke Baumgardt. Ellis Kirner will likely step between the goalposts for a Sauk Prairie team that outscored opponents 42-15 last season while pitching seven shutouts, including a 3-0 Division 2 sectional final win over West Salem.
“He was our backup keeper last year and got a couple minutes at state when Luke had to go out with a knee injury,” Kornish said. “He has experience and he’s really stepped up and kind of owned the progress he’s made in the spring and summer. We’re excited to have him back there.”
Kornish is excited to watch the various parts come together. He got to do that twice last year, coaching the boys to a state runner-up finish and the girls to the state semifinals. After experiencing the state’s top level, the path feels a bit more familiar this time around.
“Last school year was kind of huge for soccer in Sauk Prairie. Just from standards and expectations, I think we really raised the bar,” Kornish said. “Last year was one day at a time, celebrating the fact we were out there and enjoying ourselves. To some degree, the hope I have every season is that these guys are enjoying themselves along the way. But I think it is a little bit of a different focus this year. There are some larger goals for these guys coming into this season, and some bigger picture stuff we are really looking forward to.”