Soccer: Oregon’s Eli Lehmann cherishing perfect senior season on the pitch | Sports

Eli Lehmann leaves Oregon with a memorable senior year.

After helping the boys’ soccer team to an unbeaten state championship season as senior captain in the fall, Lehmann joined the girls’ team as manager in the spring.

This time, he watched from the sidelines as his classmates and friends made their own run to an undefeated Division 2 state title.

“I’m really glad I did it,” said Lehmann, referring to his career as a manager. “It was a lot of fun. I’ve known some of these girls since elementary school. I’ve played with some of them. Being able to see them in the fall, being part of the boys’ team and then watching them in the spring was a super cool experience.”

Lehmann had not previously managed the girls’ team, but was persuaded by teammate and up-and-coming senior Carter Uhlmann – who scored for the Panthers in the state semifinals win – to become co-manager of the girls’ team.

Lehmann has endured plenty of blowouts in Oregon this season — which he admitted weren’t always the most entertaining games. By the end of the season, the Panthers girls had outscored their opponents 150-3.

The thrilling state final certainly made up for some of those one-sided affairs, as Oregon beat Whitefish Bay 1-0 thanks to a 63rd-minute goal from Katelyn Studebaker.

“It was pretty great to experience it not as a player but in a different way as part of the team,” said Lehmann. “The state finals, Bobby (Nichols), made me go into the group and cheer me up before the game. That was great fun. When they won I was just so proud of them.”

Aside from being the team’s unofficial hype man, Lehmann also spoke some words of wisdom throughout the year.

“Sometimes it’s hard to be this crazy team that’s super good,” he said. “There are high expectations. You did it. Every game they won, I kept saying, ‘The job isn’t done, you have to win that golden ball.’”

Lehmann would certainly know something about what the girls were going through.

In the fall, the Oregon boys capped an undefeated Division 2 title run with a 3-1 win over Whitefish Bay.

“The biggest thing is that I’m grateful,” said Lehmann. “I’m really happy that I can have this memory. Many people put a lot of work into the sport they play. They grind and grind. I’m just grateful that I was able to achieve that in my senior year.”

Both Oregon teams have had to grapple with trying to complete an undefeated season. The pressure was arguably greater for the girls as they eventually reached the nation’s No. 1 spot.

Lehmann said the biggest similarity between the two teams is the bond the players have with each other.

“Nobody was really left out, everyone had their place in the team,” said Lehmann. “No one was afraid to talk to anyone else. We were all very close.

“We had fun off the game and it helped us on the field. The girls did that too.”

Friend became enemy

To cap off a literally perfect senior football season, Lehmann played for the gold-winning team in the Wisconsin Soccer Coaches Association All-Star game on July 16.

Lehmann also faced fellow Oregon teammate Alex Rodriguez, who led the Panthers with 20 goals in his senior season and was a Badger West Conference first-team pick with Lehmann.

“There were a couple of times I had to tag him,” Lehmann said. “It was fun. We talked a little trash. It was great.”

Enemies became friends in the All-Star Game.

“My coach was the coach at Whitefish Bay,” Lehmann said. “He was both the girls and boys coach. In the beginning, one of the biggest things was thinking, oh how is this going to go? He was super chill. There were no hard feelings.”

Lehmann also played on the gold team with Whitefish Bay stars Ben Grimm and Mitchell Dryden.

The next challenge

Lehmann will continue his football career at Division III Luther College Decorah, Iowa.

“It fits school perfectly, so I’ve already thought about it,” said Lehmann. “Getting an offer to play – you can only play competitive football for so long.”

Oregon Boys head soccer coach Chris Mitchell and Lehmann’s mother are both Luther College graduates.

Lehmann will get a chance to play Rodriguez again – along with former Oregon teammate Quinn Belville – when Luther takes on UW-Platteville on Oct. 11. Luther also fields former Oregon player and upcoming sophomore Patrick Brognano.

“That’s the next big challenge for me,” said Lehmann. “I finally did what I wanted to do in high school. Now it’s time for the next step, that’s Luther.”

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