Alexandria girls wrap up perfect regular-season run against section foes after beating fellow front-runner Little Falls
The Cardinals got a second-half goal from Ella Westlund to break a 1-1 tie in a battle between two of the best teams in the 8AA field on Saturday afternoon.
The Alexandria girls soccer team knows that things won’t come easy late in the Section 8AA playoffs, but those playoffs look like they will likely go through Alexandria now.
The Cardinals (11-2) have beaten both of the other top teams in the section field after a 2-1 win over Little Falls (10-3-1) on Saturday afternoon. Alexandria already beat East Grand Forks (9-1) in a 3-1 final on Sept. 20.
“These wins were huge as a team, and it shows what we’re really capable of,” Alexandria junior forward Ella Westlund said. “I’m really excited about what’s to come.”
The game-winner against Little Falls came with 21:49 left in the second half. Westlund took a pass and then dribbled past a defender herself to create just enough separation. That set her up for a shot from near the middle of the field close to the 10-yard line as she put it past Flyers’ keeper Anastahja Steadman for a 2-1 advantage. Steadman had 16 saves in the loss.
“I got a great ball over the d-line and then I cut in front of the center defender,” Westlund said. “I had a girl step on me, and as I was falling I got a little touch on it that got across the goal line. It’s great being able to get shots off in tight spaces. That’s something I’ve been working on is just getting shots off both feet, and if I get space, take them right away.”
Little Falls was the first team on the board when senior forward Mikayla Houdek got behind the defense and scored on a breakaway against Sophia Vinje with almost five minutes left in the half. Less than two minutes later, Alexandria answered right back when Sophia Korynta scored off an assist from Allie Haabala.
Houdek has the speed to cause almost any defense problems. She got a few good looks at the net, including one more on a breakaway with less than two minutes to go. She fought off a defender on her back and just missed wide left in an attempt that would have tied the game.
“We haven’t really seen a forward like that yet,” Westlund said of Houdek. “Her speed got around us a lot, but our defense stepped up great. It’s good seeing a forward like that.”
Alexandria held the Flyers to one goal despite two of their top defenders not playing much of the second half. Junior Ellen Panther went down with an injury early in the game, and senior Kylee James had to leave after halftime.
Alexandria head coach Tom Roos said that both injuries are not severe. Those two will likely be back soon, and the Cardinals showed their depth despite being shorthanded against one of the top teams in the section. Vinje turned aside 9 shots to get the win in goal.
“They showed a lot of character,” Roos said. “Our center defenders, Kylee and Ellen, play almost every minute of every game. They’re kind of the quarterbacks of the defense, and I think game in and game out they’re among the best players on the field for either team...We had (freshman) Lydia Oldenkamp up here from the JV getting time at that center D. They came together despite that little bit of adversity, and I think that was key.”
The Cardinals would seem to have the top seed in the section tournament secured barring any major setbacks after being a perfect 8-0 against 8AA teams. That includes head-to-head wins over East Grand Forks and Little Falls, but East Grand Forks was still ahead of Alexandria in the QRF (the ranking formula through Minnesota-scores.net) coming into Saturday’s game.
“You don’t know with the QRF,” Roos said of seeding. “But we’re unbeaten in the section. That is a positive for us, and I think that’s given us a lot of confidence.”
The Cardinals have been working on finding different ways to attack offensively. Alexandria doesn’t need much offense to win behind a defense that allows a section-low 0.5 goal a game, but continuing to fine tune their attack is something Alexandria will work on with two games left in the regular season.
“Different games we’ve had a lot of different people involved in the scoresheet,” Roos said. “Being able to attack down the middle like we saw Ella today. Being able to attack on the sides, and even today Sophia’s goal started on the outside when Allie Haabala put a nice ball up there. So we’re finding different ways to attack and just working on playing fundamentally sound, technical soccer is our goal every day at practice and every game.”
Alexandria welcomes in St. Cloud Tech (5-4) for a Central Lakes Conference game on Oct. 5 before the regular-season finale on Oct. 7 at Sartell-St. Stephen (7-3). The Section 8AA quarterfinals open on Oct. 13.
Nothing is a given in the playoffs, but the Cardinals have done everything they can through this portion of the season to position themselves well for a deep postseason run.
“I feel very confident in our girls' ability,” Roos said. “They’re gaining confidence. You got to practice with precision, practice with intensity. You can’t walk through practices and expect to flip a switch in a game. They’re really working hard to have the right approach day in and day out.”