Last season, Lakeland Union High School had a magical run to the WIAA Division 3 Sectional Finals, where its season came to an end at Rice Lake.

This season, the sixth-seeded Thunderbirds began their postseason campaign at No. 3 seed Rice Lake last Thursday in the regional semifinals.

Once again, however, that's where the road came to an end. Injuries and inexperience caught up to Lakeland in a 4-1 season-ending loss.

"It wasn't too bad of a game," LUHS head coach Stephanie Hartzheim said. "I think if we had everyone healthy and able to play, it would have been a lot closer of a game."

The game did not start the way Lakeland intended it to, allowing an own goal just 52 seconds in.

A defensive miscue, for a team that has been stout in their own end for much of the year, set the T-Birds back right at the start.

"We weren't defending with our back to the goal, we were defending with our front facing our goal," Hartzheim said. "The ball was kind of bouncing around, we tried to get a foot in front of it and it ended up going the opposite direction (goalkeeper) Clair (Kaminski) thought it was gonna go."

Lakeland was able to bounce back moments later, though, as Abby Parris scored just shy of the 10-minute mark to tie the game.

After the own goal changed the momentum of the start of the game, Parris was able to offset it with a big goal.

"We had a nice ball sent up to Abby and then she dribbled past some of the defenders and put a nice shot on the ground past the keeper," Hartzheim said. "Their keeper's pretty good. She's a tall individual so any shots high weren't gonna make it, so the girls new they had to shoot low."

The euphoria of tying the game didn't last long for Lakeland. In fact, it lasted exactly 42 seconds.

Rice Lake was able to regain the lead at the 10:32 mark on a shot from the top of the box that turn momentum back in the favor of the home team and that's where it stayed for the remainder of the game.

"I think that might have had a little bit of a factor," Hartzheim said. "I know the girls were a little down after that. We were trying to keep them up and think positive thoughts and working together and push up a little further the rest of the game."

Rice Lake pushed the lead to 3-1 with less than 15 minutes left in the first half.

Injuries certainly played a factor, as leading scorer and first-team All-Great Northern Conference selection Olivia Killian was hampered with a foot injury suffered in the regular season finale against Mosinee just two days prior.

Killian was able to play some, but it was evident she was not the same threat to score she normally is.

Lakeland was also without its top playmaker Erika Intrepidi, who suffered an injury earlier in the season and was not able to return.

Having so many injuries, particularly to key players, made life difficult for the T-Birds against a talented opponent.

"I looked for individuals that would be able to fill the gaps and step up and be able to play the positions that maybe they usually wouldn't have played," Hartzheim said. "We moved Zoey (Ziebart) up to offensive midfielder the last 15 minutes of the game to try to get some more offensive plays going. We had Jaden Dern back, which was nice, and that helped fill the defensive spot and we just played other people where we thought we needed them."

If it seems like the season went by in the blink of an eye, that's because it did.

Lakeland crammed 14 games into a span of 35 days thanks to winter weather wiping out most of April.

The T-Birds were never able to gain any consistent momentum because of the late start and so little time for new players to get acclimated to new roles.

"I don't think we could get everything out of the season that we wanted to," Hartzheim said. "With a bunch of younger kids on the team and trying to figure out who could play where and who's gonna fill the gaps of who was there last year, it was hard to rebuild the team and get them to work together like we needed them to to score some goals."

Kaminski made eight saves in goal for Lakeland, which ends the season 5-8-1.

Nick Sabato may be reached at nick@lakelandtimes. com or via Twitter@NickSabatoLT.