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Raiders sizzle in state run
Sugar Rivers Marissa Atkins tries to steal the ball during a WIAA sectional game against Madison Edgewood at Belleville High School on June 9. To order this photo, click here. (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)
BELLEVILLE - When the Sugar River girls soccer team takes the field at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee to play Seymour in a WIAA Division 3 state semifinal Thursday, coach John Ziperski knows the Raiders will be playing for more than their team and school.

"We are really not just playing for one small town," Ziperski said. "With the co-op we are playing for two small towns that take pride in what they do. I've coached for 18 years. This is bigger than me and them. The town's pride goes beyond just the school."

Sugar River (23-2-2) will clash with Seymour (16-4-6) in a Division 3 state semifinal at 5 p.m. Thursday in Milwaukee. The last time Sugar River went to state in 2004 the Raiders lost to eventual state champion Xavier 7-0. The second semifinal Thursday night includes a repeat showdown of the state championship game from last year with defending champion Catholic Memorial playing Notre Dame.

"There have been years I felt we have had the talent and the situation didn't work out," Ziperski said of earning a state berth. "I knew we had the talent this year, but we didn't want to look too far ahead. Getting through to state you have to have a little bit of talent, luck and have the situation work out for you. They have already accomplished a lot this season. You never know when your last game will come. I just hope they put their best foot forward in the state tournament."

Sugar River, ranked third in the Wisconsin Soccer Coaches Association Division 3 state poll, has been one of the hottest teams in the tournament with four straight shutouts and 16 shutouts on the season. The Raiders have featured a stingy defense all season giving up just 0.77 goals per game. The Raiders' defense is led by senior defenders Hannah Jones, Aimee Sies and Abbi Lahey and goalkeepers Rachel Heittola and Madeline Bartels.

"Our defense has been solid all year," Ziperski said. "Defense doesn't get a lot of sunshine. We don't just have one or two superstars. It's a team effort. The defense has done a good job of keeping us in games."

The Raiders shut out Madison Edgewood 1-0 in a sectional semifinal after surviving a 1-hour, 45-minute lightning delay to get to the sectional final.

"The 1-0 win against Edgewood was not a pretty sight, but it was impressive," Ziperski said. "We were able to hold off one of the top teams in the state the final 25 minutes. They had a nothing-to-lose attitude. Playing possession and shutout style soccer has been key to our success. We have been able to do just enough on offense."

The Raiders are averaging 3.5 goals per game this year. Sugar River senior Vanessa Narveson has scored a team-high 27 goals and has four assists. Other scoring threats for the Raiders are senior Brooke Larson (17 goals, four assists), Aimee Sies (10 goals, eight assists), senior Nicole Sanders (nine goals, six assists) and senior Taylor Legler (seven goals, 17 assists).

Seymour and Sugar River don't have any common opponents this year. The Raiders finished second in the Capitol Conference this year behind Lodi. However, the Raiders have been on a roll in the tournament outscoring opponents 14-0.

Sugar River did play Notre Dame, last year's state runner-up earlier this season and lost 9-1. Ziperski has searched for information on Seymour trying to study their team, but he doesn't have much information.

"We can't control who we are playing," he said. "We can only control how we play. Going up against teams like Monroe and Edgewood who know our style of play is a challenge. Playing a team that doesn't know us my guess is they can only look at our scores and who we have played. I think the girls are just focused on us, and we are excited about the moment."

Sugar River will be missing four players at state, including starter Kalin O'Rourke, who will be on a school trip to the Dominican Republic.

"It will be important for the girls on the bench to step up into bigger roles," Ziperski said.

The Raiders also must wait to see if Jones can play after she suffered a knee injury Saturday.

"I'm not sure the extent of her injury," Ziperski said. "We are hopeful it's less serious than we thought."