Many high school coaches would find value in a two-week period without games of their team. However, after the Alexandria boys soccer team had to quarantine after a positive COVID-19 case, the already bizarre season took another turn. But that didn't stop the Cardinals from earning a hard-fought draw in their first game back.
Lucas Harstad's goal in the 59th minute evened the score against the Bemidji Lumberjacks on Friday night at Alexandria Area High School. Colin Reilly booted the ball upfield to a sprinting Harstad, who got enough on the shot to squeak one by the goalkeeper.
"We talked at halftime about how they were pressing us and how we needed to look for the long ball," Reilly said. "I picked my head up and saw Lucas. I trusted him that he would finish. I put the ball in a decent spot, and he did the rest. It was a great finish."
The goal came shortly after Bemidji broke the scoreless tie midway through the second half with a beautiful crossing sequence from Silas Bitter to Noah Johnson.
"There was a late-run coming towards the net, and our defense was unable to pick up that runner," head coach Brandon Johnson said. "It was a great placed supporter with a really nice header. When you don't have that guy marked, you have those problems. I think it's a great reminder for us always to talk and call out those plays so that we know who's coming and going. We have to have somebody staying on the goal side for those set pieces."
Both teams had several scoring chances early on, but as the clock ticked down, the Lumberjacks controlled the ball more in what turned into a 1-1- tie. With the Cardinals feeling the effects of the two-week break, goalkeeper Ryan Meuwissen was called on to make several crucial saves.
"There's a saying in soccer where a good goalie will give you three great saves a game. For Ryan, it's more like 5-7," Reilly said. "It makes you want to put more effort in because he's going to steal a couple of shots for you every game. We want to put our bodies on the line for him because he will work for us. He's a great guy and an extremely good player."
While the Cardinals are still searching for their first win of the season, Friday night's game against Bemidji could prove to be a momentum swinger going forward.
"For them to not hang their heads after giving up that goal really says a lot about them," Johnson said. "Before the season, the seniors came up with the phrase, 'Grit and grind.' I think tonight was a prime example of these guys living out that mission in this 2020 season. In the final minutes, a lot of guys started cramping because we weren't in game shape after the layoff. You could see these guys dig deep and fight. That shows true grit, and this is a really impressive team to show that against."
Alexandria wasn't the first team in the state to have a positive COVID-19 case and most likely won't be the last. However, they feel fortunate to have an opportunity to keep playing after following the quarantine procedures.
"We were shocked when we got the text saying there was a positive test," Reilly said. "We talked about it happening, but nobody believes it's going to happen until it happens to you. We've been doing everything like wearing masks and following protocols. When it broke, it was heartbreaking for a lot of guys, especially the seniors, because we didn't know if that was it. That's two weeks in a short season, and it was tough, but we are thankful to be back."
During the time off, the Cardinals practiced at home on their own. Johnson sent out individualized practice plans.
"I think everybody did them or at least their own workouts," Reilly said. "We didn't feel rusty coming in. I think that shows how much these guys care about the sport and this team."
During the time off, Johnson put his trust in his leaders.
"They did a lot of independent work, and we did the best that we could," Johnson said. "Communication was great, especially when we have to rely on the captains. I figured it was a good time to empower them and challenge them with that task."
Cardinals fall at Willmar
The Alexandria boys soccer team played its second game in as many days on Saturday in Willmar. While Friday’s tie against Bemidji looked to be a step forward, the Cardinals weren’t able to capitalize on the momentum.
Willmar beat Alexandria 4-0. Goals were scored in the fifth, 33rd, 50th and 62nd minute of the match. Alexandria is now 0-2-3 on the season, while Willmar improved to 2-4 overall.