On paper, a game against Willmar on Tuesday night for the Alexandria girls soccer team looked like the toughest test on the schedule so far this year.
Willmar was 2-1-1 coming into the night with a tie against defending section champion Bemidji included in that. Its only loss came against a juggernaut Moorhead team that is 6-0 and hasn’t allowed a goal all season.
Alexandria (5-0-1) was undefeated through five games, but three wins and a tie were against winless programs in St. Cloud Tech, Rocori, Sauk Rapids-Rice and St. Cloud Apollo. That’s why a 5-3 win over Willmar for Alexandria felt a little bit different on Tuesday.
“I think it definitely does,” senior Allie Randazzo said. “We went into this game knowing it was going to be a competition the entire game. We really worked hard as a team together to get the win. Walking off the field, that felt really great.”
Alexandria jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first 13 minutes, but it took holding on late after Willmar cut its deficit to 4-3 on a goal from Samantha Christoffer with 12:07 left.
Alexandria controlled the ball much of the second half with nothing to show for it, but sophomore Morgan Jones finally made it pay off with a goal with 2:28 left. That put the game away after she was set up right in front of the net on a pass from Ella Westlund.
“In practice, we’ve been really working on those connections with each other and knowing where we’re going to pass before we pass,” Jones said. “I think that was a great example of that. Just knowing where Ella Westlund was and her give back to me, we really connected and that’s what made that goal happen.”
The Cardinals couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. Jones scored her first of two goals on the night within a couple minutes of the opening kick off an assist from Randazzo.
It was Randazzo’s turn to score next as she converted a corner-kick opportunity with an assist going to senior midfielder Aubrey Kosters. Fellow senior midfielder Molly Panther lofted a goal high over the outstretched arm of Willmar keeper Ella Swenson a couple minutes later, and just like that it was 3-0 Alexandria.
“When we as a team come off the first kick with all that power and strength together, we get momentum and then we just start getting going and making those connections,” Randazzo said. “That’s what gets our game going.”
Willmar had a game on Sept. 10 at Bemidji where it fell behind 3-0 and rallied back to finish with a 3-3 tie. Alexandria head coach Tom Roos said he knew the visiting Cardinals wouldn’t quit, and they didn’t. Junior Ellary Lange scored two first-half goals to make it a 3-2 game.
But Alexandria had an answer every time. Kosters joined Panther in scoring from that midfield position to make it 4-2 before the half. Four different players scored for Alexandria, following a trend that has keyed this team to its fast start.
“That’s something that’s helped us. We know our strikers are going to score most games, and then we get some support from either the outside mids or the center mids,” Roos said. “Today it was the center mids who came through and scored.”
Randazzo said this is a group that is coming into each game confident and with a focused mindset right now.
“I tell the girls that every game we go in with a 0-0 mentality,” she said. “We’re confident in our talents and we’re confident as a team. We know that we have each other’s back, so that’s a quality that’s very important to our team.”
Randazzo is part of a group of 10 seniors on the varsity roster who have been through their ups and downs with the program. Two years ago, the Cardinals were a 7-9-1 team, but they jumped up to 10-6-1 in 2019. They have carried some momentum from that right into the start of 2020.
“I think this is about three years in a row where we’ve seen some pretty good growth,” Roos said. “Last year, I think we were a team that could be competitive with about everybody, but when it came down to it, it was a battle to find those wins. This team is a team that’s confident enough to come out here and play with anybody. It’s a pretty exciting group.”
Even in getting to 10 wins a year ago, goals were hard to come by. Alexandria averaged just 2.2 goals-per game, but through six games this year, they have more than doubled that production to 4.7 goals a night.
“It’s a team attack,” Roos said. “We have various people -- Allie and Ella are fast up front. Jones is deceivingly fast, but she’s going to look to take shots a little more from the perimeter. Today, that last goal where Jones and Ella found a nice combination with each other, that’s what we’re looking for is to get those attackers to be creative with each other.”
The Cardinals will find out exactly where they stand over the next three games. Alexandria is at Bemidji (3-1-1) on Thursday night before returning home to play Moorhead on Sept. 22 and going to Brainerd (6-0) on Sept. 29. All games start at 7 p.m.
Neither Brainerd or Moorhead have allowed a single goal all season. The Warriors have outscored opponents 35-0, while the Spuds have scored 57 goals. Three times they have reached double figures in a game, including a 17-0 win over Rocori on Aug. 27.
Roos is excited about the way his team is playing through six games. He also knows they need to be at their best to keep that up over the next couple weeks.
“I think we have to tighten some things up defensively,” Roos said. “Willmar did not put a great deal of pressure on us, but they found a way to get the ball in the back of the net a few times...Against Brainerd, Bemidji and Moorhead, in past seasons they have prided themselves on being able to attack on offensive corner kicks. We need to be able to defend. I’m telling my girls, ‘That’s equally as important as scoring on a corner kick is not giving that up.’”