The Alexandria boys soccer team wasn't deterred by the harsh weather in its first-round playoff win over Hillcrest Lutheran Academy on Thursday night.
While battling through sideways rain and the slippery field, the third-seeded Cardinals (8-8-1) beat the sixth-seeded Comets (6-7-1) in their opening game of the Section 8A playoffs.
"Our seniors didn't have to go home tonight with a loss. All of the guys are pretty jacked right now," head coach Brandon Johnson said. "We know it's going to get tougher as we go. It's good to get one underneath our belt after a couple of days off."
After HLA scored in the second minute, senior Jacob Siira tied the game less than two minutes later with assists from Josh Kietzmann and Graham Peterson. Kietzmann gave the Cardinals the lead with an assist from Siira in the sixth minute of the game.
"It's great to score like that," Kietzmann said. "Knowing that everybody else was scoring too, and I was able to help with that made it feel awesome. That was the best we played all year on the offensive end. Better late than never."
The Comets tied the game in the 14th minute when Breck Severina broke loose on a breakaway and slid the ball in the lower-left corner of the net.
"Hillcrest has a bunch of international students. They like to play a smaller and slower pace. We like to call it European style," Johnson said. "It's a good style play, but we knew we could outrun them. We should've used that to our advantage more in the first half."
Alexandria came out of the break on a mission. Peterson gave the Cardinals the lead with a lob shot over goalkeeper Zajen McArton's head in the 45th minute. Seven minutes later, Floris Van Halewijn put the Cardinals up 4-2.
"They play a deep defense. They keep five players in the back," Johnson said. "We were able to break that down, especially in the second half, and be successful in doing so."
The rain picked up as the temperature dropped. Midway through the second period, it was 38 degrees. However, the soaked field didn't hinder the Alexandria offense.
"It was freezing," Kietzmann said. "Getting touches on the ball when it's this wet is tough. But our touches were on point tonight. Everything was clicking for us."
Jack Carlson found the back of the net before Kietzmann scored his second of the night to give the Cardinals the insurance they needed. Johnson was able to rest some of his starters before the upcoming match against Pelican Rapids this Saturday.
"Six goals were the most we scored in a game this year. It's good to know that we can put up a number like that," Johnson said. "We played our reserves in the second part of the second half, and they played well. We put up the number we wanted. We were hoping to hold them to less. You get this weather, with the wet balls and the sloppy turf, mistakes can happen."
The Comets scored a late goal in the 72nd minute, but it was too late. This was the first meeting Alexandria had with HLA this season. After a week of preparation, they knew what the Comets would try to throw at them.
"Coach (Cahil) Collins was able to find some film from one of their games against Pelican Rapids," Johnson said. "Thankfully, the technology worked in our favor, and we were able to see what they like to do and what pace they like to play at. We can look at how they stacked up against other teams that we played as well. We knew we were the stronger team, and we are happy the score reflected that as well."
The Cardinals expect to play against a similar style of play this Saturday. Having the ability to outrun an opponent is something they look forward to.
"We feel better when we have speed as an advantage over other teams," Kietzmann said. "We knew that Hillcrest wasn't going to be that quick, and we burned by them a few times. I feel like if we play like we did tonight on Saturday, we can clear the field."
Each match gets harder as the Cardinals advance through the bracket. The seniors understand that each time they play could be their last.
"It's the playoffs, and it's do-or-die at this point," Kietzmann said. "I'd compare this to my sophomore year. We had a big group of seniors then and we have another big group now. We've been playing together for a long time, and this means a lot to us. We came to be great friends, and we want to end the season with a bang."