NEENAH - The Neenah girls soccer team has made 14 state tournament appearances, including last year.
However, last year's trip to Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee didn't end well as the Rockets lost in a quarterfinal.
While the loss certainly didn't feel good, the Rockets might not have to wait too long to erase that loss at state from their memory. With most of its starting lineup back, a 15th trip to the state tournament is realistic.
"It's not going to be a cakewalk, and just because we went there that doesn't mean anything," coach Jeff Zehren said. "We got to start all over."
That's what every team has to do in the spring and the Rockets may be in better shape than most. Neenah (15-7-2 last season) returns 15 players, including last year's leading scorer, Emily Skaer, and goalkeeper Brooke Hiltunen.
Even though Neenah has yet to play a game due to weather, the players are thinking about the state tournament because they know they have the pieces in place.
"Oh, yeah," defender Kendra Bombinski said. "That's obviously our main plan. Going into last year, our first state game, our goalie hurt herself. So the main thing this year is to stay healthy and try to make it back down there."
Zehren won't say state is the goal, but he does say nothing different is expected this season than any other season.
"Expectations this year are no different than any other year — to keep improving throughout the season, work hard every day and hopefully do as well again in the conference season, and then once we get to the postseason, do well and hopefully get on a roll which obviously we did last year," he said.
Neenah is capable of getting on that roll, but it knows this year's opponents will be eyeing a chance to beat the Rockets. That is usually the case but when you reach the state tournament a bigger target is normally circled on your back.
"There's a big target on our backs because of how well we did last year," Skaer said. "I feel like we have some tough competition but we're ready for it."
If Neenah is to reach state again, it might be because of the offense. Last season, Neenah averaged 2.6 goals per game and Zehren wants to see that improve.
"We really want to concentrate on the scoring this year," Zehren said. "That was maybe one of our weaknesses last year. We're going to address that this year."
If Neenah's offense improves and Hultinen stays healthy, the Rockets should be in position to make another deep postseason run.
"State is everyone's big goal and that's our team goal this year," Skaer said. "I'm hoping to make it back.
"(Last year was) probably the best feeling I ever experienced in soccer."
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay
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