On a night when ice covered parts of the pitch, the Alexandria girls soccer team got burned by Fergus Falls.
The fourth-seeded Cardinals played like the better team for much of the night at AAHS on Thursday, but the fifth-seeded Otters held onto a 1-1 tie through 80 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of overtime in the Section 8A Tournament opener.
Penalty kicks then decided the victor, where it was ultimately Fergus Falls stealing the 2-1 win behind a 3-1 advantage in the shootout.
“(Soccer) in particular -- more than other sports -- sometimes it’s not fair,” Alexandria head coach Tom Roos said. “(Our girls) played in a way that they can really be proud of themselves. That being said, it doesn’t feel very good right now.”
Alexandria (7-9-1) blitzed Otter keeper Svea Smedstad for the final 10 minutes of regulation and nearly all of the two 10-minute overtime periods. But time and time again, Smedstad stonewalled every quality look the Cards created.
“I just don’t really think it was our night for scoring,” senior forward Kaye Paschka said. “It’s a bad night not being able to score, obviously. We definitely had a lot more opportunities than usual tonight. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t make any of them go in for some reason.”
The one look they did convert, though, was on a penalty kick for Hailey Eggebraaten after Sidney Drew was taken down from behind in the box. The 31st-minute score served as the equalizer following a Sophie Rausch goal that put the Otters (7-8-2) ahead 1-0 in the 26th minute.
The second half went scoreless, though not for lack of effort.
“It’s just so cool, because playoff season is when everyone truly gives 100 percent,” Paschka said. “You’re really seeing everybody’s full effort out there. At this time of the year, everybody is just so bonded together that you care that much more. You want to work super hard for your team.”
That effort sparked constant opportunities to net the go-ahead goal, but Alexandria just couldn’t get a key bounce to go its way.
“We had chances. We were rocking it down there, we were throwing everything at them,” said Roos. “And it wasn’t so much that we weren’t executing. Sometimes, you need a lucky bounce aside from doing everything right. We were doing everything right, and we were creating opportunities. The ball just didn’t find its way to the back of the net.”
The Cardinals -- led on the offensive by Paschka, Drew and McKenna Ellingson -- did just about everything but score. From open looks on net to crowded scrambles with the keeper out of position, though, Fergus Falls seemingly held on for dear life to keep level at 1-1 behind nine total saves by Smedstad.
The penalty kicks were a different story, though. Although Eggebraaten opened with a goal on the first kick, Mady Eklund quickly evened the shootout at 1-1 for the Otters. And then came the nightmare finish for Alexandria.
Both Julia Johnson and Miranda Hoffman scored for the Otters, while the next three Cardinal shots respectively hit the post, sailed high, and hit the crossbar to finalize a season-ending heartbreaker.
“It’s hard. I felt we had the better chances,” Roos said. “The way they have finished the season, including tonight, is a way that they can be proud of. We don’t like the ending, but we’re proud of what we’ve put on the field.”
Alexandria started the season 0-5, but the Cardinals righted the ship with a five-game winning streak that highlighted a much more competitive second half of the season. The Cardinals graduate four seniors -- Paschka, Ellingson, Georgia Lussenhop and Abby Johnson -- who played a role in that turnaround.
“Even though it didn’t work out today, I’m just so blessed to be able to play with this team,” Paschka said. “Making those bonds that you’ll remember forever (is special). It’s super sad that it’s all over, but I’m really happy I got to be a part of it.”