Waukesha West sophomore Dani Rhodes missed a quarter of play in the June 12 WIAA Division 2 girls soccer sectional semifinal at Whitefish Bay, but she was still too much for the Blue Dukes to handle. Way too much.
The Wolverines (20-4) made it look easy in a 3-1 win over top-seeded Bay (18-3-3), just three weeks after they suffered their worst loss of the season, a 4-1 drubbing on the same field against the same team.
The dominating win sets up a sectional final with also-top seeded New Berlin Eisenhower at 7 p.m. Saturday in Whitefish Bay.
"The girls were pretty spectacular," Waukesha West head coach David Zindler said. "Three weeks ago today, they beat us 4-1 on this field. We came on that day to kind of do research; we knew we would have to beat them here and that helped a lot. We knew what we needed to do. We had a sound plan and the girls executed it fabulously."
The plan must have involved a heavy dose of Rhodes. Rhodes put West ahead scoring on a drive to the net in the sixth minute. In the 14th minute, Rhodes dribbled masterfully through three defenders and missed a second goal when the ball bounced off the goalpost.
While there would be a long delay before the next goal, West dominated the tempo. The Blue Dukes rarely moved past midfield and failed to take advantage of Rhodes' absence after she went down with a leg injury in the final minute of the half.
Rhodes returned in the 57th minute, after Bay missed its best chance to tie the game with a misfire near the goal in the opening minutes of the second half.
"Ever since I've started playing, I don't believe in getting hurt," Rhodes said. "I hate coming off the field. My team was working so hard, I had to go back out there and help them out."
West's Katie Grall added some insurance with a goal in the 71st minute, and Rhodes broke free again in the 73rd for her second goal to put the Blue Dukes away.
Bay's Leah Rothstein avoided the shutout with a goal in 79th minute.
"Dani's always impressive," Zindler said. "She's a great athlete; she's a fierce competitor. She just keeps getting better and better. There were times when she was able to be successful just based on pure athleticism, but now she's become very technical with the ball."
It was not the performance Whitefish Bay head coach Robert Williams expected from his team, which had came in on a 13-game winning streak.
"We knew it wouldn't be like the last game," Williams said. "It's difficult to beat that good of a team twice, and we didn't do some of the things we've been able to most of the year."
Zindler said rebuilding his team's confidence after the last game at Bay was one of the biggest challenges of the season.
"One of the first things we had to do was handle the apocalyptic overreaction of taking it big time on the chin," he said. "That's part of our job as coaches. We're a really good team. We don't lose a lot and they thumped us pretty good. We had to convince them that we didn't win all of those games by accident. We found what was wrong and we fixed it."
Rhodes added the win also helped heal her leg – and showed plenty of the confidence West might have lacked a few weeks ago.
"To be honest, I wasn't really surprised," Rhodes said. "This is an amazing team, especially in playoffs. When it comes down to it, we're playing for the seniors and we're playing for our jerseys. When we play like that, I don't think anything can stop us."