The unsung part of one of the most successful defensive systems in the state begins with the Oregon Defensive Quartet.
Oregon has conceded only three goals this season and has 20 shutouts. They played 14 consecutive shutouts to start the season before beating Nicolet 4–1 on 6 May.
“It scares other teams,” said Oregon State senior goaltender Payton Lang, a University of Wisconsin-Green Bay staffer who talks about the Panthers’ lockout streak. “It’s not just me. These are some of the best defenders I’ve ever had.”
For a team that relies on speed and agility, the Panthers’ two outsiders, older Emily Mikkelson and rookie Summer Steele, play more of an attacking style. Both Mikkelson and Steele try to initiate offensive attacks from outside.
“With the lineup we play, Emily Mikkelson really is the forward we play from behind,” said Oregon coach Bobby Nichols. “She’s good at attacking and recovers quickly.”
While some teams prefer a more defensive approach and leave one defender behind and rarely allow him to cross midfield, the Panthers’ defensive success revolves around staying up front on offense.
“Our coaches love to use them on the run because they put more pressure on the other team’s defense,” Lang said of Mikkelson and Steele. “They are very fast and can recover quickly if they need to.”
Nichols said that Steele has become strong and knows how to win back the ball.
The Panthers’ pair of centre-backs, grown-ups Lily Frank and Ella Wirtz, are hard hitting. The tandem holds down a lot of attacks in the center of the field before the opponent has time to get into the penalty area.
“I’m pretty sure if Lily (Frank) wanted to play in college, she could play in Division I,” Nichols said.
Nichols said having athletic playmakers as defensemen is a big advantage.
The next test for the Panthers will be against Cedarburg (14-6-2) in the semi-finals of the second division of the state. The Bulldogs finished second in the North Shore Conference behind Whitefish Bay. Cedarburg beat Green Bay Southwest 2–1 in a 2nd Division Pulaski group match. Cedarburgh drew 1-1 with Whitefish Bay on 3 May.
The Bulldogs average 2.82 goals per game. Cedarburg sophomore Mary Strobel has scored 30 goals and provided seven assists this year.
Whitefish Bay (20-4-2), the reigning Division Two state champions, finished first in the state and will play fourth-place Sauk Prairie. Whitefish Bay is 8-2-2 against the state’s top 10 teams, while Oregon is 6-0-1.
Last year, Whitefish Bay beat Green Bay Notre Dame 7-0 in the title game. Oregon lost to Notre Dame in the state semi-finals 2-1, which featured several lightning-fast delays of over two hours.
Something will have to be done if the Panthers win and have a state championship rematch against Whitefish Bay, whom they beat 4-1 on penalties to win the 2019 Ballon d’Or.
“I really think the game in the state semifinals last year didn’t show what we can do,” Oregon senior forward Zoe Pagels said. “I’m glad we can come back and show them what we can do. All girls really want this. I think we know all games are going to be intense and we need that same intensity, energy and urgency.”