There was definitely a Wauwatosa flavor on the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh women's soccer team this year.
The Titans season ended when they dropped a 2-0 decision to 12th-ranked Washington University (Mo.) in a second-round match of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III Women's Soccer Championship held Sunday in St. Louis, Mo.
The team qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006 and won the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) tournament for the first time in school history.
Wauwatosa West girls soccer coach Jon Gulrajani was the lead assistant for head coach Erin Coppernoll.
On the team was 5-foot-7 inch senior forward Jessica Erny, a three-year letterwinner coming into the season, who starred at Wauwatosa East.
"I always wanted to be part of the college game, and this year provided me that opportunity at UW-Oshkosh as the lead assistant coach," Gulrajani said. "My biggest goal was to fit in well and have an immediate impact with the players."
A few weeks before the season, Gulrajani was going over the roster to see which kids he knew and which ones he had seen play. That's when he saw Erny's name on the roster.
"Of course as a Tosa West coach, I noticed Jessica Erny from Tosa East," he said. "I remembered she played forward, had pretty a good pace and was aggressive, but it had been a few years.
"Of course, Jess was already on the phone with her former coaches Jeff Worzella and Robby Dubinski, getting the lowdown on myself."
Gulrajani has enjoyed coaching Erny and exchanging barbs.
"It has been fun," he said. "We take some jabs at each other and have a good time with the rivalry."
One time at practice, Erny had some Tosa East gear on, and Gulrajani told her she couldn't practice until she changed clothes.
Erny got some revenge when she won a sub sandwich after a friendly wager on the East-West soccer game. The Red Raiders came away the victors.
"My favorite was during a training session," Gulrajani said. "She was struggling a bit and finally finished off a goal. I just walked past and said 'Man, you would have been so much better had you went to West.' It was just a way to keep things loose and she got a huge laugh out of it."
Erny was among seven seniors on the team, and Gulrajani felt these girls wanted to finish strong.
"I could feel these players really wanted to go out with a bang, and it has been fun to watch them take great strides from game to game," he said. "With two games left, we even had a chance to be regular season conference champs. A small stumble at UW-Stout changed those thoughts to winning the conference tournament."
The Titans finished the season with an overall record of 12-7-4, and they were 5-3 in the WIAC.
Erny tied her strongest point total with three goals and six assists, tied for third-best in WIAC.
"It has been a great year and these kids believe in themselves and have done things no other teams at Oshkosh have done," Gulrajani said. "All the players have been really great to work with."
Gulrajani then talked about the Wauwatosa connection he experienced.
"Our first game in this area was at Carroll College, and it didn't surprise me to see Jeff (Worzella) and Robbie (Dubinski) there supporting their former player," he said. "What's great about our soccer community is there is a great deal of respect for each other, even being on different sides of the track, we all still understand the game and respect each other as coaches.
"Both parties had good things to say about each other. Jess was a senior and captain, so her recommendation to the team came easy. Once we passed that, we could get to work on becoming a better team and improving Jess as a player."
Gulrajani mentioned how the Tosa community got together to support the late Mike Landisch, who recently died of cancer.
"I think this added to the story about two Tosa soccer individuals getting together; this really hits home about the Tosa Community. I have seen this community blend for coach Landisch, for 'GO PINK' games. It just proves that good people with common goals can achieve great things."
- Tom 'Sky' Skibosh
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