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Alexandria girls' soccer: Perserverance pays off

The Cardinal girls' soccer team celebrated its Section 6A championship, which will send Alexandria to the State Class A soccer tournament tomorrow, Thursday, at Roseville Area High School. Game time is 7:30 p.m. against The Blake School. (Photo by Mark Ripley, Select Digital Memories)

The Alexandria girls' soccer team had reason for optimism heading into a shootout with a trip to the state tournament on the line last Thursday at St. Cloud State University.

The Cardinals and Central Lakes Conference rival Sartell had played to a scoreless tie through regulation and two 10-minute overtimes. Now it came down to one simple question: Which team had the better goaltender? The Cardinals were confident that they had the clear answer in junior keeper Sarah Bruzek.

"We have been telling our players that if we get to a shootout, we win the game," head coach Tom Roos said. "They went into it believing that was the case. We said all along we felt we had the best goaltender in the conference and we have five shooters we think can find their mark 90 percent of the time."

Bruzek lived up to that high praise through the shootout as Sartell had to be perfect with its placement. That led the Sabres to shoot wide on their first of five shooters and hit the cross bar on their fourth attempt.

That set the stage for sophomore defenseman Anna Lee after Anna Spanbauer, Chelsey Salto and Kayla Vanderveur had all scored to give Alexandria the 3-2 edge. Lee stepped up knowing she could be the hero and executed her shot, placing it in the lower left side of the goal to send her team to state as a 4-2 winner in the shootout.

"I look at Kayla Vanderveur and Anna Lee," Roos said. "They were first-year varsity players and that's an incredibly high pressure situation to put them in. They really showed great courage in getting the job done in that situation."

As a team, the Cardinals performed in high-pressure situations throughout the entire section tournament. Alexandria worked for every goal it got through four games, needing two overtimes in the wins over East Grand Forks and now Sartell to get the job done.

The Cardinals knew they might have to win low-scoring games after leading goal scorer Gabby Koel went down for the season with an eye injury on October 4. Koel hasn't played in regulation or overtime since, but was still in uniform in case she was needed in a shootout, where the threat of reinjuring her eye was eliminated.

That's exactly what played out as Koel stepped up to the ball for Alexandria's first shot against the Sabres. The senior's shot was saved by Sartell's Erin Deters, but like they have done all postseason, Koel's teammates were there to pick her up.

"I was thrilled with the way we responded to that," Roos said. "Initially, the first match or two after Gabby went down, I thought we were a little on our heels and our mentality was let's just try to survive. As we played on, I could see our mentality change, where we were thinking, 'She's a big part of our team, but we're moving on.' Rather than trying to hang on, we were going out and trying to win the games."

Alexandria was better prepared to do that because of a defense that has been stingy all season long. They took their game to another level in the playoffs, allowing just two goals through four games and shutting out an East Grand Forks team that had averaged almost six goals a game this season.

Bruzek has been the backbone of that defense. The back-to-back shutouts in the section playoffs gave her 10 shutouts on the season for an Alexandria team that has a 1.0 goals against average on the year.

"Sarah has been a rock, especially in these games," Roos said. "She's been even better in the playoffs, holding us in games against some strong teams. She's done a fantastic job."

That will have to continue as the competition only gets stronger at the state tournament. The Cardinals didn't get any favors in the opening round as they drew defending Class A state champion Blake. The Bears are 15-2-2 this year behind a suffocating defense. Of those 15 wins, 14 have come in shutouts.

The Cardinals know they will be the underdogs, but anything can happen in a one-game situation. That's why they will be excited to take the field at Roseville Area High School tomorrow, Thursday, at 7:30 p.m. The winner will advance to play in the semifinals at the Metrodome next Monday morning.

"The competition level has been ramped up," Roos said. "But I feel good that we're bringing in a defense that has limited teams' opportunities. Our goal is, if we can keep it a low scoring game, perhaps being able to execute a counter attack and get a goal or two. You never know."



5:30 p.m. - Benilde-St. Margaret's vs. St. Peter at Park High School

7:30 p.m. - South St. Paul vs. Kasson-Mantorville at Park High School

7:30 p.m. - Alexandria vs. The Blake School at Roseville Area High School

5:30 p.m - Totino-Grace vs. Cloquet at Roseville Area High School



8 a.m. - Benilde-St. Margaret's/St. Peter winner vs. South St. Paul/Kasson-Mantorville winner

10 a.m. - Alexandria/The Blake School winner vs. Totino-Grace/Cloquet winner



10 a.m - Semifinal losers



10 a.m. - Semifinal winners

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.

(320) 763-1229