State Class A girls' soccer: Bruzek's brilliance not quite enough
The Alexandria girls' soccer team knew it would have to be almost perfect to have a chance against defending Class A state champion Blake last Thursday.
The Bears came into the opening round of the state tournament with 14 shutouts in 15 wins. They featured three all-state players in Maddy Crawford (G), Ali Leslie (M) and Lydia Sutton (M) and one honorable-mention all-state midfielder in Lauren Kelly.
Alexandria's Sarah Bruzek almost trumped all of that. The junior goalkeeper neutralized an explosive Blake offense and kept it a 1-0 game through 72 minutes. In the end, the Bears' team speed proved to be a little too much in a 2-0 game that ended the Cardinals season in Roseville.
"I'd have to say Sarah Bruzek is probably the best soccer player in the state, from what I saw tonight," head coach Tom Roos said. "She was absolutely phenomenal. I can't describe it. I've never seen anything like it. That was just a super human performance and she kept the team in the game."
Roos felt that way after watching his keeper get peppered in the opening half. Blake outshot Alexandria 28-2 overall and more than 20 of those shots came as the Bears had the wind at their back in the first 40 minutes.
Balls hit off cross bars and went wide of the net because Blake had to be almost perfect against Bruzek. She frustrated the Bears with a flurry of impressive saves. What could have been a blowout early was just a 1-0 game after Sutton finally scored on a breakaway with a little more than a minute left in the half.
"With the wind, it made the ball move a heck of a lot faster," Bruzek said. "Some of the shots were reaction, point-blank shots, where reaction time is what saved me on that. Then the far shots, they came in a little faster."
Blake used the wind at its back and some great ball movement to create great opportunities that entire first half. That made creating offensive chances for Alexandria all the more difficult as the Cardinals were forced to focus so much of their attention on defense.
"Playing defense, you really have to deal with their speed," senior defender Annie Schneiderhan said. "Down the sides, [Sutton] and [Hannah Randolph], they had some serious speed. I guess you really just have to jockey them and not let them get by you. The second half, we really picked it up and it was a more even game. We were marking our marks better and really stuck behind them. And we had Bruzek back there the whole game. She played outstanding."
The Cardinals controlled the ball more in the second half but still couldn't create many scoring chances. Blake used its overall speed to keep players around the ball, which made getting a quality look for Alexandria extremely difficult to come by.
"It's hard to transition into offense when you have so many players having to come back and mark up defensively just to try and shut them down," Roos said. "That makes those counter attacks very difficult when you can't get numbers up into the offensive end."
The Cardinals were still just one break away from tying the game through almost 73 minutes. Bruzek made a diving save midway through the second half to keep it a 1-0 game. Sutton finally created some breathing room for the Bears when she was credited with her second goal of the night as she almost collided with Bruzek near the goal. The ball deflected into the back of the net to all but seal the deal for the defending champs.
The entire Alexandria team ran to hug Bruzek on the field after the final seconds ticked off the clock. It was an emotional ending to a memorable run for the Cardinals. They lost their top goal scorer in Gabby Koel with two games left in the regular season. Instead of folding, Alexandria responded with six straight wins after that to punch its ticket to state.
The Cardinals finished with an overall record of 14-6-1. Eight seniors had a lot to do with that as they helped hang a section championship banner in Alexandria.
"The state tournament has always been a dream with the girls we've been playing with," Bruzek said. "What I'll remember about tonight is, in the huddle after we lost, looking around at each other and all of us have tears in our eyes. Just going through the season and knowing the hills that we went up and down and knowing we climbed. Climbing and falling hard is way better than sitting at the bottom wishing you could be there."
BLAKE 1 1 - 2
ALEXANDRIA 0 0 - 0
SCORING - First half - 38:46 - Lydia Sutton, assisted by Natalie Sill; Second half - 72:09 - Sutton, unassisted
SHOTS - Blake - 28; Alexandria - 2
SAVES - Alexandria - Bruzek - 13; Blake - Maddy Crawford - 2