Chris Handrick coached Verona boys soccer standout Eliot Popkewitz for four years and was struck by the complete effort the Wildcats senior gave in every endeavor.
“Soccer was no exception to this,” Wildcats coach Handrick said this week. “From offseason training to taking care of his body and academics, this young man gives everything he can.”
Popkewitz helped lead Verona to the Big Eight Conference title and to the program’s first WIAA Division 1 state boys soccer championship.
The 5-foot-8 Popkewitz, three-year captain for the Wildcats, scored the winning goal in the 89th minute in Verona’s 1-0 sectional final victory over Madison West, then scored the first goal in the Wildcats’ 3-0 state semifinal win over Kenosha Tremper and the opening goal in Verona’s 2-0 victory over Neenah in the state final.
Popkewitz was selected as a midfielder among the top 11 players named to the Wisconsin Soccer Coaches Association all-state team – the highest tier on the all-state team. Popkewitz was a first-team all-conference selection as a midfielder and was the Big Eight player of the year.
He began the season coming off a broken toe and wound up scoring 14 goals and totaling 16 assists. Popkewitz became Verona’s career leader in goals with 40 and the single-season leader in assists with 16.
For his efforts this season, Popkewitz was named the 2019 Wisconsin State Journal All-Area Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
“Year one was a training piece for him, but as his confidence grew, he became the leader we always hoped, on and off the pitch,” Handrick said. “Many younger players seek out the opportunity to play with Eliot and he has role-modeled what great dedication and work ethic can bring. … He'll be missed in our program for his leadership, work ethic and positive character.”
Handrick said he believed the state coaches had it right in recognizing Popkewitz in the top 11 in the state, adding that Popkewitz would be an asset to any coach building a team.
“He’s a coach’s dream with coachability, work ethic and devotedness,” Handrick said. “This heart was seen as he stepped into a center forward for us instead of a more natural position for him of center mid, because he drew many players with his constant movement and strength on the ball. In the postseason he was no question the man of the match many times with three games in a row having the winning goal in some clutch timings.”
Popkewitz, who wants to study engineering in college, is considering playing soccer at the NCAA Division I or II level.
“He has improved (his field vision) a lot, which I think is what created the eye for goal,” Handrick said during the season. “He takes care of the ball and finishes it. … His finishing move is quite strong. He offers leadership in the middle of the field to help those around him.”
Other players considered for the award were Verona senior defender Sam Lynch and Madison West senior midfielder Tonio Ermakoff.
Coach of the year: Chris Handrick is the 2019 Wisconsin State Journal All-Area Boys Soccer Coach of the Year after leading Verona to the program’s first state championship in the Wildcats’ first state appearance.
Handrick, who took over as coach four years ago, directed the Wildcats to their second consecutive Big Eight title, after Verona won the conference crown for the first time in program history last year.
Handrick was the state coaches’ Division 1 coach of the year and the Big Eight coach of the year this season.
Other coaches considered for the honor included McFarland’s Brett Ogorzalek, who shared the state coaches’ Division 3 coach of the year honor with Shorewood’s Kyle Konkol after Ogorzalek guided the Spartans to the WIAA Division 3 state title match and a runner-up finish, and Lake Mills’ Tony Cooke, who directed the L-Cats to the Division 4 state semifinals.
2019 Wisconsin State Journal All-Area boys soccer team
Player of the year: Eliot Popkewitz, sr., midfielder, Verona – Popkewitz, who had 14 goals and 16 assists, helped lead the Big Eight Conference champion Wildcats to their first WIAA Division 1 state championship. He was the Big Eight player of the year and among the top 11 players (“WSCA Best 11”) on the Wisconsin Soccer Coaches Association all-state team. He scored in Verona’s two state matches.
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Ethan Nichols, sr., forward, McFarland – Nichols, an all-conference performer who helped lead Rock Valley Conference champion McFarland to a WIAA Division 3 state runner-up finish, was a WSCA all-state selection. William Jewell College commit Nichols, who totaled 19 goals, had two goals against Rice Lake in a state semifinal and scored the Spartans’ goal in the title match against Shorewood.
Jack Knight, sr., forward, Verona – Knight, who had 15 goals and 10 assists for state champion Verona, was selected to the Big Eight all-conference first team and the WSCA all-state team.
Collin Bjerke, sr., forward/midfielder, Oregon – Bjerke, a Drake University commit who was a unanimous all-Badger South Conference choice, was significant in Oregon winning the Badger South title and a attaining a Division 2 sectional final berth.
Zach Nichols, so., forward, McFarland – Nichols was an all-conference choice in the Rock Valley and earned a WSCA all-state selection. Nichols, younger brother of Ethan Nichols who was strong distributing assists, scored twice in McFarland’s 7-2 state semifinal victory over Rice Lake to give him 15 goals during the season.
Tonio Ermakoff, sr., midfielder, Madison West – Ermakoff was a first-team all-Big Eight pick and a WSCA Best 11 selection on the all-state team who helped lead the Regents to a Division 1 sectional final spot, falling to eventual state champion Verona.
Isaac Becker, sr., midfielder, Monona Grove – Becker was a first-team Badger South selection and WSCA all-state choice for Monona Grove, the Badger South runner-up and a Division 2 sectional semifinalist.
Evan Carlson, sr., midfielder/forward, Sauk Prairie – Carlson, who had 31 goals and nine assists, was a unanimous first-team Badger North Conference choice and WSCA all-state selection for Badger North champion Sauk Prairie, which advanced to a Division 2 sectional semifinal.
Sam Lynch, sr., defender, Verona – Lynch was a first-team all-Big Eight performer and a WSCA Best 11 selection on the all-state team. He had nine goals and an assist for Verona, the Division 1 state champion.
Nick Stacey, sr., defender, Madison Edgewood – Stacey was a first-team selection in the Badger South and a WSCA all-state choice for the Crusaders.
Brett Connor, sr., defender, McFarland – Connor, who was selected to the Rock Valley first team and was a WSCA all-state pick, helped lead the defense for Division 3 runner-up McFarland.
Oscar Herrera, sr., goalkeeper, Madison West – Herrera was a first-team all-Big Eight choice and a WSCA all-state selection for Big Eight runner-up and sectional finalist Madison West.
Forwards – John Wilke, jr., Lake Mills; Josh Cervantes, sr., Madison East; Gabriel Guenther, sr., Mount Horeb; Isaac Gueu, sr., Middleton; Jacob Mouille, sr., Waunakee.
Midfielders – Charlie Douma, sr., Belleville/New Glarus; Jake Sampson, jr., McFarland; Ben Tutewohl, jr., Middleton; Ben Bauman, sr., Madison East; Cole Kettner, so., Waunakee.
Defenders – Erik Genskow, sr., Madison Memorial; Peter Kraus, sr., Madison West.
Goalkeeper – Coltrane LoBreglio, jr., Oregon.
Matt Schutt, so., McFarland; Brett Schneider, sr., Madison La Follette; Jackson Werwinski, jr., McFarland; Kobie Smith, sr., McFarland; Ethan Vandermause, sr., Oregon; Aaron Kluck, sr., Oregon; Zachary Zielke, sr., Monona Grove; Colin Holtan, sr., Stoughton; Connor Bracken, jr., Monona Grove; Aaron Ziolkowski, sr., Monroe;
Ethan Kratzer, jr., Watertown; Oscar Fernandez-Hydzik, sr., Baraboo; Nick Jansen, sr., Beaver Dam; Evan Ridd, sr., DeForest; George Schultz, sr., Mount Horeb; Tyler Banfield, jr., Mount Horeb; Joe Baumgardt, jr., Sauk Prairie; Will Gunnell, sr., Baraboo; Omar Munoz, jr., Beloit Memorial; Eric Jordan, sr., Madison Memorial;
Jonathan Gamez, jr., Verona; Erick Antimo, jr., Madison La Follette; Dominick Ramirez, sr., Madison Memorial; Jonathan Trilling, jr., Sun Prairie; Gannon Simonett, sr., Verona; Robby Paredes, sr., Madison East; Cian Carlson, sr., Middleton; Keegan Duffy, jr., Sun Prairie; Tavion McNuckle, sr., Verona; Jack Bell, jr., Madison Memorial.
Gavin Childs, jr., Wisconsin Heights/Barneveld; Breckin Faber, jr., Belleville/New Glarus; Caeben Schomber, jr., Wisconsin Heights/Barneveld; Ryan Downing, Belleville/New Glarus; Adam Brands, sr., Watertown Luther Prep; A.J. Karls, jr., Lodi; Zach Huffman, so., Cambridge/Deerfield; Tyler Stampfl, jr., Belleville/New Glarus; Brodie Trollop, jr., Wisconsin Heights/Barneveld; Ben Incha, sr., Cambridge/Deerfield; Camden Schultz, sr., Lake Mills; Carsen Richter, jr., Lodi.