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Soccer: Morgan Jones' late game-winner helps Alexandria to a second straight 8AA title

Jones' goal with 2:44 left against East Grand Forks was the difference as Sophia Vinje and the Cardinals' defense posted a 14th shutout and secured the fourth trip to state in program history.

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Alexandria girls soccer players and coaches are all smiles as they hold up their Section 8AA championship trophy after a 1-0 win over East Grand Forks in Fergus Falls on Oct. 18, 2022. This was the 14th shutout of the season for the now 16-2 Cardinals as they secured the fourth trip to the state tournament in program history.<br/>
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press
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FERGUS FALLS — The Alexandria girls soccer team had to wait nine years to get back to the state tournament in each of its prior three trips to state. There will be no such wait to make a fourth trip.

The Cardinals looked like the favorite in the Section 8AA field near the end of the regular season by winning eight of their last nine games and outscoring opponents 32-2 in the process. The Cardinals (16-2) capped off three shutout wins in the Section 8AA tournament on Tuesday with a 1-0 win over second-seeded East Grand Forks (14-3-1).

It is Alexandria’s second consecutive 8AA championship after also making the state tournament in 2003, 2012, and 2021.

“It means to us that we continued what we started last year,” Alexandria senior goalkeeper Sophia Vinje said. “We continued on our goal that we had at the beginning of the season. We got exactly where we wanted to.”

The lone goal came with 2:44 left in regulation. Senior Morgan Jones found just enough space through traffic in front of the net to get a ball past Green Wave keeper Shali Anderson.

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The mixed emotions of a section championship game are on display as Alexandria celebrates its Section 8AA title after the final buzzer as East Grand Forks sophomore Camryn Adams puts her hands over her face while walking off the field after a tight 1-0 game.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

“I just saw an area of open space, and I saw Allie (Haabala) going down for the cross,” Jones said. “I just knew I had to time my run correctly. I went in looking to get some type of touch on the ball and into the net. It’s surreal. It’s an unbelievable feeling. I don’t even know how to explain my emotions right now. I’m just so happy for this team.”

Both teams played in the midfield for much of the first half, but Alexandria had two close calls. Haabala sent a bender in from the right side that Anderson jumped high to save in the upper right corner of the net.

Senior Ella Westlund put a ball off a crossbar from a similar angle later in the half.

Haabala had another good look at the net with about 13 minutes left in the second half. She got open from about 15 yards out and received a pass before sending a shot just left of the post.

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Alexandria's Allie Haabala, left, and East Grand Forks' Lauren Kronlund race up the field along the sideline during the Section 8AA championship in Fergus Falls on Oct. 18, 2022.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

“We’re definitely determined and each opportunity we get, we try to make the most of it,” Jones said. “I think just keeping after it and going after each ball and trying to create something out of it, that really kept us up this game.”

Vinje shined in goal for Alexandria as well. The six-year varsity starter made a diving kick save with about 6 minutes left on a bang-bang play that erased the Green Wave’s cleanest look of the game. That kept it scoreless at the time.

“As soon as it came up, you knew it was going to bounce away from your defender,” Vinje said of making an aggressive play on that save. “You have to go through with it or else they have a one-on-one shot with the goal.”

Alexandria had beaten the Green Wave 3-0 on Sept. 20, but Alexandria head coach Amy Korynta said that game was much closer than the final score indicated. She expected a really good game from East Grand Forks, and that’s what the Green Wave delivered.

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Alexandria's Sophia Korynta and East Grand Forks' Lauren Kronlund, left, and Blake Schultz hustle after a loose ball off of a Cardinals' corner kick during the Section 8AA championship game in Fergus Falls on Oct. 18, 2022.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

East Grand Forks came in just as dominant as Alexandria over the final three weeks of the season. The Green Wave had won seven straight games coming into Tuesday, outscoring opponents 45-1 during that stretch.

“They played really well together,” Vinje said of EGF. “They’re really, really close with each other. They’re talking all the time, and if you’ve ever seen them out of soccer, they’re really good friends with each other. They’re kind of like us in that they’re really, really close with each other.”

Alexandria’s depth was on full display in the championship as the Cardinals played most of the game without two of their top players. Senior defender Ellen Panther warmed up but was not quite able to go after an injury against Detroit Lakes in the semifinals. Junior Elle Heydt also went down with an injury in the first half against the Green Wave and did not return.

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Alexandria junior Avery Sinning throws in a ball early in the Section 8AA championship game against East Grand Forks on Oct. 18, 2022.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

“We know we had a deep team, and we did all season,” Korynta said. “A lot of players played all season. You don’t really prepare for a situation like this with a couple players being injured, but because everyone had gotten a lot of playing time at a variety of positions, we were able to have some versatility.”

Sophomore Emma Ramstorf stepped in and played the whole game on defense after being at the outside-mid position for much of the season.

“She stepped in and was amazing,” Korynta said. “Our team is deep, and we’ve known that all along.”

It’s a talented group of athletes who are now ready to see how far they can go against the best programs at the Class AA level.

The quarterfinal games of the girls state tournament will run between Oct. 25-27. Seeding and matchups will be determined this weekend.

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Alexandria's Greta Oldenkamp sends a deep shot at the net during the Section 8AA championship game against East Grand Forks on Oct. 18, 2022.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

“We’re just going to take every moment and savor each and every second of it,” Jones said. “We’re going to have high expectations for each other and ourselves. Just seeing how far we can make it into the tournament is going to be our biggest aspect this year.”

Alexandria fell to eventual Class AA runner-up Benilde-St. Margaret’s in the opening round of last year’s state tournament. This time, the Cardinals will enter the field feeling like they have what it takes to make a run against the state’s best programs.

“Our goal was obviously to win the section, but now it’s not,” Korynta said. “Now we want to play in U.S. Bank Stadium (by making the semifinals). We have the experience. A lot of these girls did play last year, and I think they have that goal too. It’s not just about making it to state. It’s about, ‘Now how far can we go?’”

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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