Clutching her hard-won 'Player of the Match' trophy, Homestead senior keeper Kelli Ausman said most soccer goalies view end-of-the-game penalty kicks with the same enthusiasm as a trip to the dentist.
'The exact words are not appropriate for print,' she said with a laugh.
But following her stop of Oregon's fifth and final penalty kick in the WIAA D2 state title game overtime shootout June 18 at Uihlein Soccer Park, the only words Ausman had were howls of joy.
Her stop sealed a 2-1 shootout advantage and earned the Highlanders their fourth WIAA state title over defending champion Panthers and their first since 2007.
'I finished my high school career the best I could, doing the thing I love the best,' she said, 'and I helped my team win a state title. That's all I could ask for.'
The victory put the final touches on a goal that was set at the end of last season, a penalty-kick loss to Menomonee Falls in the WIAA sectional final.
The 13-player senior group for the Highlanders had one mission, according to senior co-captain and forward Coco Wiencek.
'Honestly, this is just incredible,' she said. 'From the end of last year, we've wanted this. We met about two months before the season started and told ourselves that we were going to win state, and we made it happen.'
'This means so much,' said defender and fellow senior co-captain Lauren Padgett. 'There are 13 of us (in the senior class), and I've known and played with some of them since I was 6 years old. This is the cherry on the top for us. Eleven of us are never going to step on the pitch again. This is the last time so this has been on our minds all season.'
Stop after stop
The victory denied Oregon (17-4-4) a repeat state title and put a smile on the face of veteran Homestead coach Rich Dorn, who has won two state girls titles with the Highlanders.
'We endured,' he said. 'The girls were absolutely determined and refused to lose. With the heart they displayed, they frankly deserved this.'
It's an argument both sides could have made, as this game was battled to a dead-even draw throughout. Oregon had a slight edge in shots (18-16), and Homestead had the better edge in corner kicks (8-6).
Though both teams pressed the other in the offensive third, good chances were hard to come by. The Panthers' Jen Brien got in very deep in the first minute off the left side of the goal, but the shot went wide.
At the 31- minute mark, the Highlanders' Brigid West put a great charge into a long free kick straight at the goal, but Oregon keeper Abby Breitbach tipped it over the top of the net.
In the second half, there were many scrums in front of both goals but very few clean shots as both defenses packed it in on the warm and windy day. A hard cross-breeze frequently changed the direction of shots.
Still, there was a heartstopping moment for the Highlanders late in the first overtime session when Brien came in again on a hard charge off the right side and Ausman made a diving save.
In the second session, another Panthers shot came in at an odd angle, and Ausman had to work hard to smother it.
On to PKs
That led to the often controversial five-person-per-team penalty kick phase to decide the title, a phase that is often decided between a player's ears as much as their feet, or in the keeper's case, their hands.
'Honestly, it is all a mental game at that point,' Wiencek said. 'Who wants it more? It was hot, and we were all tired. It was all a matter of who worked harder, mentally.'
In the end, it was the Highlanders.
Senior midfielder and co-captain Allie Haddad shot first for the Highlanders and nailed it. The Oregon kicker then put her shot wide.
'I volunteered to go first; I was excited at the chance,' Haddad said.
Breitbach stopped Wiencek to keep the Panthers alive, but then Ausman made a nice save for Homestead.
The Highlanders could not take advantage, and their next attempt went wide.
Dorn tried to confuse the Panthers by switching up keepers on the next attempt, and Oregon's Makenna Fanning tied the shootout at 1-1 with a goal.
Both sides missed their next attempts, but on Homestead's fifth and final shot, Jordan Ellerbrock pounded it home for the lead, and when Ausman made the last save of her career, the Highlanders had their championship.
'Whatever was going to happen, I knew I was going to rock it,' said Ausman of her confidence level.
Ellerbrock was also a model of Wiencek's mental toughness.
'I was pretty confident,' said Ellerbrock. 'We've been practicing penalty kicks for years, and I knew where I wanted to place it. I knew I needed to block out the pressure because it would just get in the way.
'It was just me and the goal.'
Basking in a title
Dorn was not surprised at the team's tenacity.
'You look at our body of work,' he said. 'We began the season by winning the Kenosha Tremper tournament; then we won the North Shore title. Then we won the regional and the sectional.
'Then we beat the 'Big Bad Wolf' (top-ranked Waukesha West) yesterday (June 17), arguably the best team out here. That was a game for the ages. Then we come out here and play 90 minutes of regulation and then an extra 20 (of overtime).
'It just speaks to their absolute, amazing resolve. Their ability to suck it up.'
'I don't know what this means,' Haddad added, 'but it's all worth it. We were 100 percent confident. I'm very excited and every impressed by all this.
'I just love it. I mean we were the underdog the whole season ... everyone played so hard. We gave it our hearts.'
And a little bit more.
'Being with these 13 seniors has been amazing,' Ellerbrock said. 'We're all best friends; we did this for each other. We can be proud of what we accomplished.'
'We're the wolfpack,' added a smiling Ausman. 'We're going to play to the last minute and do whatever it takes.'