WIAA boys soccer: With its 15th shutout, Oregon moves within one victory of return to state
OREGON — At the kickoff of every soccer match, the boys on the back line at Oregon exchange a hand signal and a rallying cry.
They clasp their four fingers with the thumb in the same hand to set the tone: Clamps.
Monona Grove was the latest team to feel the pressure of those clamps on Thursday, as the second-ranked Panthers took a 2-0 victory over the visiting Silver Eagles in a WIAA Division 2 sectional semifinal.
The victory lifted Oregon (18-2-1) within one victory of a return trip to the state tournament next week at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee, where the Panthers earned runner-up honors last year. Oregon will visit Elkhorn (17-1-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday in the sectional final.
When the Panthers put on the clamps, they are mighty tight: They have allowed only one goal spanning their past 15 games and have posted a state-record 15 shutouts — and counting.
“When you put them on clamps, that means they aren’t getting the ball,” Oregon senior center back Ian Moran said. “They’re not going anywhere. We’re putting them on clamps, so we do the hand symbol to signify it.”
The origin of the hand symbol is unclear — but that just adds a little mystique.
“I just say it because it motivates us,” senior centerback Johnny Coughlin said.
An added benefit of the lock-down defense? It creates counterattack opportunities for an offense that has averaged more than four goals per match.
“The thing is, it’s not so much about the shutouts,” Oregon coach Chris Mitchell said. “It’s that we’ve actually not allowed a team looks on goal. We’re not asking our goalkeeper to do much.”
Senior goalkeeper Duncan Morgan mostly just gets to practice goal kicks during matches, because he isn’t needed for many saves. Still, the defense knows he’s there to bail them out when the clamps break down — a rare occurrence this season.
“It’s fun, boring and exciting at the same time, I guess,” Morgan said. “It’s nice to sit back, relax and watch a game of soccer.”
Oregon credits the gaudy defensive numbers to organization and communication. When the Panthers have a defender marking an opposing forward, they consistently coordinate how the rest of the formation should align to cover for him. It requires an experienced group of seniors on the back line who have played together for years and understand how each fits into the system.
It also requires an aggressive mentality that doesn’t let up — even with a comfortable lead.
“We’re always trying to prevent them from even getting into our half,” Coughlin said. “The more bored that Duncan can be in a game, the better.”
The Panthers know their defense will be tested the rest of the way, starting on Saturday against an Elkhorn team that has scored 18 goals over its past three games.
That’s when Oregon will really need junior Collin Bjerke and senior Zachary Bennett to step up with goals, as they did in the second half against the Silver Eagles (14-5-0).
The clamps have to stay on for the Panthers to reach their goal of a return trip to the state tournament.
“We’re going to do our best, and if we get there, we get there,” Morgan said. “If we don’t, we’re going to be disappointed in ourselves. But at the same time, it’s been a journey with the boys that I’ll never forget.”
Monona Grove 0 0 — 0
Oregon 0 2 — 2
Second half: Bjerke (Conduah), 54:54; Bennett (Conduah), 86:53.
Saves: MG (Haase) 4, O (Morgan) 3.