Coming off a regional championship, the Wauwatosa East boys soccer team is trying to find its way in the early going of 2016.
The young Red Raiders dropped two of their first three matches, with both losses coming to perennially strong programs in Catholic Memorial and Whitefish Bay.
"We're definitely young and inexperienced. In our first match against Catholic Memorial, we had two returning starters on the field," Red Raider coach Eric Dale said. "We knew coming in that this, I wouldn't call it a rebuilding year but more of an assessment to see who can play varsity minutes.
"Three games in, it is accurate to say lack of experience is hurting us right now."
After finishing fifth in the Greater Metro last season with a 2-3-2 conference record, Wauwatosa East defeated Waukesha West and Brookfield East to win the regional. The Red Raiders then fell, 1-0, to Pewaukee in the sectional semifinal.
The only two starters returning from that team are junior forward Jalen Holley and senior goalkeeper Sam Rutkiewicz.
"Jalen is a guy you can build a team around," Dale said. "He's a big target up top. He's very fast. He surprised us last year. He was on the team as a freshman for the tournament, and we weren't expecting him to contribute as much as he did as a sophomore, but he's one of our captains this year. The ability is there. The task will be is if he can lead for us."
Catholic Memorial jumped out to an early lead and held on for a 3-1 win over Wauwatosa East on Aug. 23.
Charlie Huber put the Crusaders up 1-0 in the 20th minute and struck again in the 49th minute to make it 2-0. Jack Glynn pulled the Red Raiders to within 2-1 with a goal on a penalty kick in the 57th minute, but Lucas Morris put the game away for the Crusaders with a goal in the 78th minute.
"That was a really good first match for us," Dale said. "A lot of guys were playing their first varsity minutes. I thought we played pretty well against an experienced team."
Wauwatosa East collected its first win of the season with a 4-1 victory over Thomas More on Aug. 25.
A goal by Vince Milan off an assist from Sam Janisch in the 43rd minute put the Red Raiders up 1-0 at halftime. After Thomas More equalized on a ViVi He goal in the 72nd minute, Wauwatosa East scored three times in the final 18 minutes of the match to pull away.
Milan gave the Red Raiders the lead in the 74th minute. Owen Beaupre scored in the 86th minute, and Andy Moe scored off an assist from Jimmy Mroz in the 90th minute.
"We just got a fabulous game from Milan," Dale said. "He played junior varsity last year as a junior. He scored two goals for us in maybe his most meaningful minutes on the varsity team so far. Vince has worked really hard and is earning his playing time. He saved the match against Thomas More for us."
The Red Raiders closed the week with a 7-0 loss to defending WIAA Division 2 state champion Whitefish Bay.
"We were down 3-0 at halftime, and one of the points we made was just not to give up," Dale said. "Sure enough, Bay comes out and scored in the first two minutes of the second half. It was an embarrassing loss for us. We know Bay is good, but I don't know if they are 7-0 better than us."