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Bruzek anchors an Alex girls' soccer team with high hopes

Alexandria's Sarah Bruzek followed the ball with a couple of her teammates, Hayley Burns (left) and Chelsey Swenson (right), moving up to defend a Detroit Lakes’ offensive attack on Saturday afternoon. Eric Morken/Echo Press

It’s not often that a team can come off a loss that ends its season and carry momentum from that game into the following year, but that’s exactly the situation the Alexandria girls’ soccer team finds itself in.

Senior goaltender Sarah Bruzek said this group still talks about the 2-0 loss to Blake in the opening round of the state tournament last season. The memories of a crazy game still seem fresh. The Bears peppered the net that night, outshooting Alexandria 28-2. Through it all, Bruzek turned aside shot after shot.

“All of us, we go back to that game,” Bruzek said. “We talk about that game and how crazy it was, how many shots on goal they had. All of us getting together after that first half and just being like, ‘You know, we might not have this game, but we’re going to go in and we’re going to try our best.’ We played a lot better in the second half.”

Her performance prompted head coach Tom Roos to call Bruzek “probably the best player in the state” immediately after the game. Now as a senior, she’s a big reason why this Alexandria team has such lofty goals entering 2013.

“She is a big anchor back there,” Roos said. “I think, my opinion and I’m biased, for the last three years she’s been the best goalkeeper in the conference. That’s my opinion and I think in front of her we have Anna Lee as a center defender, and between Bruzek and Anna Lee, we’re hoping that goals are going to be hard to come by for the other team.”

That’s been the case through the first two games of the season. Bruzek and the Cardinal defense got their first shutout on Saturday in a 5-0 win over Detroit Lakes that evened their record at 1-1 after a 1-0 loss to St. Louis Park last Thursday.

Alexandria outmatched the Lakers on a hot and windy day on Saturday afternoon. The defense made things easy on Bruzek by not giving up many good looks at the net. She needed just seven saves to record her first shutout of the fall.

The Cardinals controlled the pace of play from the get-go on their way to a 4-0 lead by the half. Chelsey Salto started the scoring before Anna Spanbauer, Emily Korkowski and Rachel Drew added goals before the break. Spanbauer then put the finishing touches on things with her second of the day in the second half.

“It felt great, especially coming off a loss from a metro team 1-0,” Spanbauer said. “We still felt good [after the St. Louis Park game], but it was still great to get a win and get a few goals. It was good that our keeper got a shutout on our home field.”

The Cardinals enter the season completely comfortable with their defense, despite losing a lot of talent from last year. Alexandria had 10 shutouts in 2012 and having Bruzek back and Lee in front of her is a good place to start when getting others accustomed to the varsity level.

Offensively, the Cardinals know they need to generate offense if they are going to accomplish the goals they have set for themselves. Alexandria lost leading scorer Gabby Koel to graduation from last year’s team. They found they could win without her by tightening things up on defense during the playoffs after Koel was lost late in the regular season because of an eye injury.

The Cardinals are searching for ways to consistently generate more goal-scoring chances with what they hope is a balanced lineup this year. Moving senior Rachel Drew from midfielder to forward helped on Saturday as she and Spanbauer set each other up for a couple of pretty goals.

“We put [Rachel] up front and I think she did a great job helping to create some things with Anna Spanbauer and the rest of the girls in the offensive attack,” Roos said. “We’ve been pretty established defensively. We have a good goals-against average from last year. If we continue that and can create some offensive opportunities to score some goals, life will be a little easier.”

One thing is certain about this group – these players are extremely focused as they enter the season. The feeling of that state tournament game still lingers, and the Cardinals are hungry to try and get back.

“Year’s past, we were like, ‘Oh yeah, another season. Let’s see how it goes’ ” Bruzek said. “We never really looked at the state or the horizon. But this year, we’re like, ‘We can get there. We know we can.’ Cathedral, that’s always a big opponent for us, and I think we play East Grand Forks [in the section]. They’re a good opponent as well, but the way we’ve been playing and the way I think we’re going to end up, I think we’re going to be just fine.”

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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