The Somerset hockey team is bound for the WIAA State Championships for the first time in program history.

The Spartans locked up their place in the state tournament by defeating Menomonie 3-2 in the Division 2 sectional title game, which was played Saturday at the Somerset Ice Arena.

Senior Jordan Brown scored Somerset’s first two goals. The Spartans led 2-1 after the second period, but Menomonie used a five-on-three power play at the start of the third period to tie the score. Junior Antonio Gomez scored the go-ahead goal for the Spartans with 3:36 remaining. Owen McDonough broke out on a two-on-one break, getting the ball to Gomez who was streaking down the left side alone. From just above the faceoff dot, Gomez unleashed a backhander that found the far upper corner of the net.

The goal sparked the Spartans, who kept the puck out of their defensive zone virtually all of the remaining game time.

Somerset improves to 14-11-1 for the season with the victory. The Spartans won a coin flip against River Falls to get the third seed in the Division 2 state tournament bracket. The Spartans will face second seed Northland Pines at approximately 12:15 p.m. in the state tournament at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.

The chance to compete at state comes in the 40th year of the Somerset Hockey Association. Somerset coach Dan Gilkerson and assistant coach Ryan Dalzell have been involved for most of those years. They began playing Spartan hockey as kindergarten students in 1984-85. Gilkerson has been a coach for 17 seasons; this is his 15th as varsity coach. Somerset became a high school team in 1987 and the Somerset indoor arena was constructed in 1996.

This was a very difficult week for the Spartans off the ice. Nine of the team members attend school at St. Croix Falls. When two St. Croix Falls students were killed in a car accident last Friday, Feb. 21, it affected all of the team members. The sectional semifinal game against River Falls was moved from Tuesday to Thursday, with the Spartans attending the memorial service for the two St. Croix Falls students as a team.

The shift of the semifinal game to Thursday meant the winner would have two less days to prepare for Saturday’s title game. Gilkerson said it showed, as the Spartans didn’t appear to have the usual spring in their legs.

Gilkerson said Somerset and Menomonie play similar styles, as hard working teams that need to grind out their goals. Somerset had an ace in the net, with junior Kaleb Bents stopping 28 of the 30 shots he faced. Somerset’s players also sacrificed their bodies, to block numerous Menomonie shots during the game.

Two Middle Border Conference teams, Amery and Baldwin-Woodville, began the Division 2 tournament as top seeds in their section. Both were upset along the way, but Somerset, which finished fourth in the MBC, is the team advancing to the state tournament.

This is the first year that the WIAA is holding the boys’ hockey tournament in two divisions. When it was announced the tournament was splitting into two divisions to give smaller schools a better chance to reach state, the wheels immediately went into action in Somerset. Gilkerson said the Spartans practiced together last June and July, where the team began the progress that continued throughout the season.

“This is what we dreamt about,” Gilkerson said. “It took awhile for things to come together.”

Gilkerson told the team a month ago he had a dream. The dream had the Spartans facing St. Mary Springs at the state tournament. The Spartans made his dream come true.

“I’m so proud of these guys. At some point, they became accountable for themselves,” Gilkerson said. “It’s believing and having faith that it can happen.”

Sectional semifinal

Somerset’s Beaudee Smith scored 12 seconds into overtime to give the Spartans a 3-2 victory over River Falls in a WIAA Division 2 sectional semifinal Thursday night in River Falls.

Both teams had chances in the final two minutes. River Falls’ goalie Andrew Adermann stopped a hard-angle shot by Smith then slid across the crease to kick away the rebound attempt, and the Bents stopped two point blank shots by River Falls’ Cole Evavold before Wildcat Stefan Klechefski’s slap shot went off the crossbar and out of play with 49 seconds remaining.

Somerset’s AJ Simpkins won the overtime faceoff and Smith picked up the puck and skated through the Wildcat defense before stuffing a shot between the left post and Adermann’s pad for the game winner.

Both goalies shined in the first period to keep the game scoreless before Smith gathered up a loose puck and banged it into the net to give the Spartans a 1-0 lead 21 seconds into the second period.

River Falls answered three minutes later when Tye Kusilek redirected a pass from Joe Stoffel for a power play goal to make it a 1-1 game after two.

Simpkins put back a rebound of a shot by Smith 51 seconds into the third period, with Brock Sawicki also assisting, to give Somerset it’s second lead of the game but Kusilek skated through the Spartan defense, cut in front of the net and rifled a shot that bounced off and over Bents with 4:26 remaining to force overtime. Ethan Hull and Noah LaVold earned assists on the play.