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Falls girls soccer team claims first GMC title

Indians get help from Wauwatosa East

Menomonee Falls’ Leanne Hawk battles for possession on a corner kick in the second half of the Indians 8-1 victory over West Allis Hale on May 21. Falls’ won its first-ever conference title that night.

Menomonee Falls’ Leanne Hawk battles for possession on a corner kick in the second half of the Indians 8-1 victory over West Allis Hale on May 21. Falls’ won its first-ever conference title that night. Photo By Dave Haberkorn

May 24, 2013

In the mind of veteran Menomonee Falls girls soccer coach Scott Stein, May 21, 2013, will now always be remembered for two things.

First and foremost, it would have been the 75th birthday of his father, who passed away far too many years ago.

Secondly, and this is something Stein's dad would have loved to have witnessed, he would have seen his son summit a very tall professional mountaintop, as the Indians kickers claimed the school's first-ever conference soccer title for either the boys or the girls.

The Indians, behind a Leanne Hawk hat trick, had just routed West Allis Hale, 8-1, and they were sitting together on one corner of the bleachers at the high school in an anxious mood because they still needed help if this championship were to become a reality.

They needed Wauwatosa East to beat DSHA. It was that simple. A tie or a DS win and the Indians would come up short.

But when longtime Falls announcer and all-around good resident Gerry Mislang announced East was ahead 2-1 with 30 minutes left in the game, the countdown started for the Indians.

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They had their "spies" at that game. Junior midfielder Jami Lessila's father, Paul, headed over to Tosa as did Indians assistant coach Jeff Sherry, who lives in that area.

Reports came in regularly over Stein's cellphone. Falls had support on hand from some of the celebrated seniors who had graduated last year, including all-stater Jenna Woodson.

And the closer the countdown got, the more excited they became. Stein, who has a wry sense of humor, couldn't help but throw in a few fake "oohs" and "ahhhs" just to throw his young, young team off a little as he was pressing the phone tight to his ear.

But when it got close to the end, even he could not conceal his joy as it became apparent that Tosa was going to hang on for a 2-1 victory.

"He tried to trick us," laughed junior co-captain Jen Eberhardy, "but then he started counting down and when it got to 'three, two, one ...' we were all screaming so loud. This is is such a good experience. And this is such a young team, 10 sophomores, three freshmen. It was like we were starting over."

With the bar now set even higher.

Eberhardy said it seemed like it was the right team at the right time.

Playing for each other

"Our team chemistry is just off the charts," she said. "There's no cliquishness on or off the field. We just play for the each other."

And so they shared the moment together.

"It was like we were an NCAA (basketball tournament) bubble team," Stein said. "We were all waiting for that call. They had some injury time late in that (DS-Tosa) game so that prolonged it a little. I started walking away during the final countdown and the girls all ran out onto the field."

Everyone was screaming then, because Falls (14-1-2 overall) had seized the GMC title away from the traditional powers that be: Brookfield Central, Brookfield East and DSHA and made it their own. Falls finished with a league record of 5-1-1 and DSHA at 4-1-2.

It is the first time anyone other than one of those three schools has won the league title in the GMC's history since at least 1998. Despite the noise, Stein's first call was from his mom, who reminded him of his dad's birthday.

It was a bittersweet moment that got sweeter by the second.

"This is so exciting," said another junior co-captain Anna Smalley. "Since my freshmen year, I've wanted this. I told myself that I was not going to go through high school without a conference championship.

"But this final three minutes (of the countdown) were the longest three minutes of my life."

It was a moment that almost didn't get here. Falls could have clinched the league outright on May 18 with a win against Brookfield East, but a frustrating 2-1 loss put them on the precipice of frustration.

"We could have done it earlier had we taken care of business on that Saturday," Stein said, "but I told the girls that if we could get that break. We could win that first conference, that first anything at all (in soccer).

"And we got it."

Stein said he hasn't been able to keep up with the congratulatory text messages. The next day, retired Falls Athletic Director Dave Petroff, who helps out in Stein's third-grade class in the Falls, brought in big celebratory balloons.

The team had gotten up ultra-early that morning ("Something they never do," laughed Stein) so they could be feted and congratulated by the Falls' Optimist Club.

'Long time coming'

One text that Stein does remember clearly is from the former coach who essentially put soccer on the map for Falls many, many years ago. A man whose Falls Hall of Famer Nicole Burnie-led squad beat Brookfield East in a WIAA regional final game for the first major milestone in the program's history and who still sends Stein a text after every game.

"I am so proud of the program," Mike Unger said. "... When it came time for me to step away (from coaching), I wanted to make sure they gave it to the right guy and they did (Stein). And he's stuck with it, too. He's raised the bar.

"It's so good (for the sport) to see the switch in power."

And Stein, who has been with the girls team seven years and the boys 13, is going to remember the day it happened forever.

"This has been such a long time coming," he said. "It's been a fun couple of days."

Making history

OTHER INFO: Third-ranked Falls, which had added a nice grace note on May 23, when it got a Rachel Clayton goal to knock off Little 10 Conference champion Oconomowoc, 1-0, enters WIAA tourney play as the second seed in the Whitefish Bay sectional. North Shore champ and top-ranked Cedarburg is the top seed. The Indians host regional games today and Saturday with sectional play slated

for June 6 and 8.

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