Girls soccer: Cardinals reset, energize to claim first win

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Prior to Tuesday’s matchup against Fergus Falls, the Alexandria girls soccer team decided it was time to start over.

“Before the game, we talked about (how) we need to go back to the beginning of the season, restart, forget about all of our last games,” senior forward Kaye Paschka said. “We all just forgot about all of our own problems, came together as a team and worked together because we knew we really wanted to win this one.”

Alex came in winless at kickoff, but the Cardinals overflowed with energy. 80 minutes and five goals later, win No. 1 -- a 5-1 final -- was officially in the books.

“We really thought this was a must-win game for us. It was time to reset, time to wipe everything away and start over,” junior midfielder Anna Zwilling said. “We’ve been working up to this moment where everything’s going to click. We really did that tonight. … It was an incredible feeling.”

The Cards and the Otters wrestled throughout a scoreless tie for much of the first half, though each team did have numerous opportunities to cash in with the opening goal. It finally happened in the 27th minute when Sophie Rausch found the back of the net, past a diving Sophia Vinje, to give Fergus Falls a 1-0 lead.

It could have sunk Alexandria, but it didn’t. That was when the extra effort started to show.

“I don’t think, at that point, we were ready to hang our heads,” AAHS head coach Tom Roos said. “They came out frustrated from the way things have gone so far this season. … They wanted to show they were playing for their own pride, quite frankly.”

Paschka first created for Alexandria in the 34th minute, when she fought her way into the box on the attack. She was fouled and taken down, and Zwilling stepped in for the equalizing penalty kick on a laser to the top corner of the net.

Following a 1-1 tie at recess, Paschka’s determined effort showed again early in the second half. After Paschka forced a deep takeaway in the 43rd minute, she found Camille Hegstad with a through ball, and Hegstad was then taken down in the box for another penalty kick.

Hailey Eggebraaten took the shot, scoring for a 2-1 advantage -- the Cardinals’ first lead of the season.

Paschka’s energy proved to be contagious.

Sidney Drew caught the bug, chasing down a ball on a dead sprint. Drew won the foot race against a defender and then worked the ball around her, finally finding Zwilling on a cross at the net for an easy, tap-in goal. McKenna Ellingson benefitted next, as the Cardinals dribbled a deep threat around the keeper and setting up Ellingson to bury a 74th-minute goal into the open net.

“It’s so important to be selfless,” Paschka said. “If another teammate has a better opportunity, and you know they can score, it’s all about the team. You can’t win just by yourself.”

For the icing on the cake, Paschka found another teammate in the 80th minute. This time, she tallied an assist by setting up Hegstad for the final goal of the night in the 5-1 -- and sweet -- victory.

“I think it’s overdue for us,” Roos said. “From day one, I’ve said that we’re a team that’s young but has a lot of potential. It’s been frustrating for us to reap the fruits of that. It’s just a great feeling to have a convincing win and with numerous people all pitching in.”

A big factor in the final decision was the team effort the Cardinals showcased, often creating for teammates even if it meant giving up a quality opportunity of their own.

“We talked about not just playing well, but making your teammates better players,” Roos said. “When we saw all of those goals, they were not individual efforts. They were created by a real team effort. The girls showed the power of playing as a team.”

“Soccer is obviously not an individual sport,” Zwilling said. “When we win as a team, we can see that all of our goals really come as a team, it’s not just an individual. It means a whole lot to show that we’re all working hard, we’re all doing our best and we’re all one team.”

Alex will return to the pitch at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 13, to host Rocori at AAHS. Roos said that he hopes it will be a continuation of what he saw Tuesday.

“We talked about a clean slate and a chance to redefine what we’re going to be about,” he said. “They came out and made a great step in turning things around. Now, it’s just a matter of keeping things going in that direction.”

And while Alexandria doesn’t have an undo button to press for the way its season started, the Cardinals know they don’t need to look back.

“Being able to come out with a win in this game, it did mean a lot to us,” Paschka said. “It’s really refreshing. We’re ready to start a whole new season.”

ALEXANDRIA 5, FERGUS FALLS 1

AAHS 1 4 - 5

FF 1 0 - 1