Soccer: Alexandria withstands a good effort from Detroit Lakes to advance to 8AA finals

Senior goalkeeper Sophia Vinje hit a special milestone with her 100th straight varsity start in Saturday's semifinals as the Cardinals' lone goal from Allie Haabala moved this team to one win away from the state tournament.

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The Alexandria girls soccer team rushes sophomore Allie Haabala after her goal off an assist from junior Avery Sinning gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead over Detroit Lakes with 2:19 left in the first half on Oct. 15, 2022. That proved to be the game-winner as the Cardinals posted their 13th shutout of the season to advance to the Section 8AA championship on Oct. 18 in Fergus Falls against second-seeded East Grand Forks.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

ALEXANDRIA — The Alexandria girls soccer team had a much harder time against Detroit Lakes on Saturday than the Cardinals did against the Lakers in an 8-0 win on Aug. 27.

The Lakers (7-11) showed improvement from that early-season game in the Section 8AA semifinals, but teams still cannot find a way to penetrate this Alexandria defense. The Cardinals posted their 13th shutout of the season in a 1-0 game that secured their spot in the section championship game on Oct. 18.

“There’s a lot more intensity in the playoffs, and both teams have gotten better since then,” Alexandria sophomore Allie Haabala said. “We just need to finish a couple more goals.”

The Cardinals dominated possession of the ball throughout the afternoon, especially in the first half with the wind at their backs.

They had two balls hit off the post in the opening 40 minutes, including one off the crossbar on a header in the box from Ella Westlund.


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Alexandria's Ella Westlund, 15, and Sophia Korynta, right, rush to celebrate with Allie Haabala after Haabala's goal with 2:19 left in the first half gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead over Detroit Lakes in the Section 8AA semifinals on Oct. 15, 2022.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

With 2:19 left before halftime, Alexandria struck when Avery Sinning sent a pass into Haabala close to the net. Haabala got enough on her shot to send the lone goal past Detroit Lakes keeper Elle Bettcher.

“Avery placed a perfect ball, and I saw it coming because she’s done them before,” Haabala said. “I was just in position to finish it. That gave us a little sense of calmness, but we wanted to finish more. We had a lot of opportunities we could have finished, but we were happy when we finally got one.”

Alexandria head coach Amy Korynta credited the Detroit Lakes defense and Bettcher playing well in net for the Lakers’ ability to stay close. Detroit Lakes had lost 7-0 against Little Falls early in the regular season before beating the Flyers 1-0 in Wednesday’s tournament quarterfinals.

The Lakers just could not get enough looks at the net against this Alexandria defense to pose a serious threat of getting the equalizer on Saturday. Senior goalkeeper Sophia Vinje has had the best vantage point all season in being able to see what makes this defense so dominant.

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Alexandria senior goalkeeper Sophia Vinje awaits a throw in early in the Section 8AA semifinal game against Detroit Lakes on Oct. 15, 2022. This was Vinje's 100th consecutive varsity game that she has played in after starting her varsity career in goal for the Cardinals in middle school.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

“It’s very much their communication,” Vinje said. “We had communication last year and the years before, but this year they’re very, very tight. They’re always making sure everyone knows where they’re going at the same time.”

Saturday’s game was Vinje’s 100th consecutive varsity start in net for the Cardinals. It was thought that the regular-season finale on Oct. 6 against Sartell was consecutive start No. 95, but that number being so high prompted Korynta to take a close look to verify. Turns out, it was an even higher number. Vinje, now 18-years old, started her first game as a 12-year-old in 7th grade.

“It’s really, really interesting to think about how I’ve grown as a person and as a soccer player through 100 games,” Vinje said. “I’m more confident than I was in 7th grade. I was a 12-year-old playing with 18-year olds. That’s a little different than who I am right now. I’m a lot more confident in myself and being able to communicate with more people is a lot easier over that six year period.”

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Alexandria keeper Sophia Vinje, bottom, rushes to cover the ball during a Green Wave drive to the Cardinals' goal in the first half of a girls soccer match at East Grand Forks Senior High on Tuesday, September 20, 2022. Vinje and the Cardinals will try to get a second win this season over EGF on Tuesday, Oct. 18, when the two teams meet in the Section 8AA championship.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

Vinje only had to clean up a few loose balls against the Lakers on Saturday, but her experience paid off in making a split-second decision late in the game. Detroit Lakes had an opportunity at getting a good look with about 1:50 left. It was a foot race on a loose ball heading toward the box, and Vinje raced out of her goal to gather up the ball in front of a Lakers’ attacker.


“Once you make a decision, you have to go through with it,” Vinje said. “That’s that confidence piece, but you have to go or else they’re going to get a breakaway shot on goal. If they get there first, it’s a shot and they would have the momentum coming forward. I have to go on that.”

That play late in the game was a good example of the type of athlete Vinje has been as an anchor for many good defenses over her career.

“She’s just an example of athleticism and somebody who loves what she’s doing as a keeper,” Korynta said. “She’s improved over time to what she is today. The last few seasons knowing she’s back there, that gives you a lot of confidence. Nothing ever seems to rattle her. I would say this season she’s just been really good about communication. She’s really kind of taking control back here.”

The Cardinals are preparing now for their biggest challenge of the postseason when they face East Grand Forks (14-2-1) in the section championship game on Tuesday. The game will be played in Fergus Falls at 7 p.m.

East Grand Forks, the second seed in the 8AA tournament, beat third-seeded St. Cloud Tech 4-0 on Saturday. Alexandria beat the Green Wave 3-0 on Sept. 20.

“It is a lot different in playoffs, but we need to come out with the same intensity and confidence,” Haabala said. “Just believe in ourselves, and we’ll do just fine.”

The Green Wave have been dominant so far through their two wins of the postseason. They beat St. Cloud Apollo 8-0 in the opener before scoring three first-half goals against a good St. Cloud Tech team (11-5-2) on Saturday to take control early.

“They have a couple of dangerous attackers who the last time we played them we were very aware of,” Korynta said. “We’re going to have to be really sharp defensively with communication and sort things out right away. They’re the type of team that can attack quickly. Then we want to attack quickly too. It’s about just being ready. They’re a little speedier up front than the last couple teams we’ve faced, so it will be a different pace. We’ll have to be able to adjust quickly.”

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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