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INDIANAPOLIS — With a 43-2 record and two state title appearances over the last two seasons, Wheeler's girls soccer team has redefined expectations

For the second year in a row, Wheeler fell 1-0 to Evansville Mater Dei in the Class A championship game. Even while the Bearcats left IUPUI's Carroll Stadium on Saturday with tears in their eyes, they didn't lose sight of all they accomplished.

“I feel like we've kind of said something for the girls team, because the boys teams are usually more prioritized over the girls teams,” senior goalkeeper Alaina Hill said. “I think that this is the second year in a row that we've gone to state, and that's a big deal. That says something about the girls team. It's like, 'Hey, don't underestimate us. We're here, too.'”

Hill played her heart out, making five total saves and keeping Wheeler in the game after what head coach Bryan Murray described as a poor offensive first half. Mater Dei forced Hill to come off her line multiple times in the first half, and Hill's ability to reach the ball before the Wildcats' passes could reach their targets helped keep the teams even.

Wheeler took control of play right out of halftime, coming close when Riley Garcia's free kick bounced off the crossbar and right to senior forward Lyric Green, who couldn't get enough on her shot to beat Mater Dei goalkeeper Sabrina Henderson. Garcia came close again two minutes later with a laser that went just high, but Madde Folz gave the Wildcats the lead on a counter-attack shot with just enough on it to trickle into goal.

"We talked about it at halftime, and we slid some people a little bit higher, and we did a better job of staying connected up top," Murray said. In the second half, we found a better rhythm and had some good chances."

Wheeler started five seniors on Saturday, and the group has spent additional time together in club play. Senior midfielder Lauren Putz said she would miss nights on the road with her teammates, as they holed up in hotels before playoff matches and got to know each other via various games and quality time. Putz received the Cato Mental Attitude award after the game as her sister and teammate, Morgan, looked on and with family in the stands.

“We have a lot of strong personalities on our team, and it has just been really fun getting to play with everybody,” Lauren Putz said. “It was really awesome being able to mentor the younger kids and have them experience this with us, because we were in their shoes last year.”

With all Wheeler put into its previously undefeated season, the shutout loss hurt. Green sunk to her knees on the turf after the final whistle, prompting Murray to put his arm around her and reiterate how much he cares about her. Emotions might be raw now, but the Bearcats' seniors will remember the whole of their historic season — from Green's 42 goals to the No. 1 ranking in the Indiana Soccer Coaches Association poll — for years to come.

“Some of them are the reason I am who I am today," Hill said of her fellow seniors. "So it kind of sucks we lost, but I think that the loss today means we get to grow. This is a big experience that we wouldn't have gotten otherwise from playing with each other. So even though it's a sad moment, I'm gonna remember it as one of the most important moments of my life, I guess.”

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Robbie Weinstein covers Porter County prep sports and Valparaiso University athletics for The Times. You can find the Vanderbilt University and Northwestern University grad posted up on the nearest field of play or in front of the TV.