Two girls soccer teams that don’t give up many goals met with a trip to the Section 8A semifinals on the line on Monday evening, and it played out like one might expect.
Alexandria allowed just 1.2 goals per game this fall, and Bemidji was almost identical with a 1.3 goals-against average.
Those defenses were on full display until the final minutes. In the end, it took a penalty-kick shootout to determine a winner as the Lumberjacks made good on their final shot to end the Cardinals’ season.
“We did everything to the best that we could throughout the entire season,” Alexandria head coach Tom Roos said. “That being said, you might need a break to get through. We didn’t get it, but we approached things the way we wanted to, so we can be proud of that effort. There are things you’re not always able to control.”
Senior Lindsey Hildenbrand proved to be a difference maker for Bemidji (11-5-1). She scored less than two minutes into the game to give the Lumberjacks an early 1-0 advantage.
That lasted until there were 22 seconds left in the first half before Alexandria junior defender Emma Reineke made one of the Cardinals’ few chances count. She scored to tie the game and give her team some momentum after Bemidji had controlled much of the first 40 minutes.
It was a 1-1 tie after regulation and the two 10-minute overtime periods.
The shootout goals were tied at three apiece when Hildenbrand stepped up as the fifth and final shooter for Bemidji. She kept the ball close to the ground and past a diving Sophia Vinje in net for the game winner.
“I can’t miss this,” Hildenbrand said of her mindset stepping up to the ball. “It’s my senior year, and no one wants a season to end. You just have to stay calm and composed because if you freak out, you might hit it over, or to the goalie or not even get it near the goal.”
Alexandria started the shootout with Camille Hegstad’s shot going just wide of the post. Katie Alto and Emma Dean both scored for the Lumberjacks, but Alexandria’s Myah Kremer and Kylee James added goals to keep the pressure on.
Bemidji missed on its third shot, and junior Molly Panther gave the Cardinals a temporary lead at 3-2. The Lumberjacks didn’t panic. Lexi Paquette found the back of the net to tie it at 3-3 through four shooters. Senior Anna Zwilling had the Cardinals’ fifth shot, but Bemidji keeper Abby Kieson made a diving stop to set up Hildenbrand’s winning goal.
“It’s like any other game. A game isn’t won or lost on any one person’s shoulders,” Roos said. “Even though that shooter might feel that way, or a goalkeeper might feel that way, the reality is that the game is won or lost by the team as a whole. That being said, I’m sure it stings a bit.”
The Lumberjacks were finally able to take a sigh of relief. They dominated possession, but did not have much to show for it against Vinje and this Alexandria defense.
“It was frustrating,” Hildenbrand said. “We’d get close, and it would hit the post or go over. I think afterwards, we’re all just really happy that we won.”
Bemidji had a shot at an open net midway through the second half on a ball that went over the bar after a perfectly-placed pass to the back post. The Lumberjacks had multiple chances throughout the second overtime, only to come up short.
“I actually felt going into the shootout that Bemidji might feel some pressure because they did have chances,” Roos said. “The second overtime, they had a lot of opportunities. They didn’t finish, and their thought going through their head might have been, ‘We might have just given this game away.’ I felt the pressure was on them because they’ve given us a chance to steal a game.”
It did not quite happen for the Cardinals, but they put a scare into the two-time defending Section 8A champions.
Alexandria players stayed in the huddle at midfield for a long time after the match was over as players looked back on the season. There were plenty of tears and a lot of hugs before they finally walked off the turf at AAHS.
Alexandria finished the season 10-5-1 through the regular season before dropping Monday’s shootout in the playoff quarterfinals. After a 7-9-1 record in 2018 and a 3-13-1 mark the year before, this fall was a step in the right direction for the Cardinals.
“We’re trying to build a program, so without a doubt I feel pretty good about this,” Roos said. “This wasn’t a rebuilding year. Bemidji two times in a row now has gone to the state tournament. We felt the team we have is very capable of going a long ways ourselves.”