By Jake Schroer
Crow River News Sports
The Lady Knights soccer team came into the Section 8AA title game against Elk River with home field advantage and tons of confidence. STMA shut out each of its previous two opponents; a 6-0 victory against St. Cloud Tech and a 2-0 win against the Moorhead Spuds.
Earlier this season, the Knights defeated the Elks on an overtime goal by Leah Johnson. Last week’s section final played out similarly to that game. This time, a trip to state hung in the balance. Both defenses held the game in check. As the minutes ticked away, both offenses missed on key opportunities on a sloppy field.
In one instance, Makenzie Langdok missed scoring by inches, sailing her shot over the net instead. Both goaltenders foiled the offenses by stopping several shots that could have decided the game early. The Knights created some outside breakaway opportunities, but failed to score.
After 80 evenly-played minutes, the game headed to overtime as a 0-0 tie. After 20 more minutes, the score remained the same. Elk River missed a scoring chance when one of its shooters hit the goalpost during a golden opportunity.
100 minutes of regular play was not enough. This marathon soccer match needed the shootout.
Wet and misty conditions made goaltending difficult, and the shootout went to the second round with both teams shooting strong. STMA made its first four kicks, and seemed poised to win. But Elks goalie Megan Marsh denied Langdok the shootout clinching goal. STMA’s other goaltender Becky Panuska, called upon for the shootout, similarly denied the Elks’ leading scorer, Logan Daulton.
With the next round, the shootout turned to sudden death, per the MSHSL rules. A goal and a save meant a hard fought victory for one of these teams. Elk River’s sophomore shooter Monet Cairns buried her shot against Panuska.
This left the continuation of the game to Knights freshman Alana Achterkirch. Her shot sailed just wide of the net, sending the Elks and their well-traveled fans into a frenzy, and sending the Knights to a highly emotional loss. The Lady Knights quickly entered the scene to console their devastated teammate.
An equally emotional head coach Megan Johnson lauded her team’s efforts not only in the section final, but the entire season.
“We played in the section final last year, and to do that two years in a row, no one thought we would have.”
Johnson said that the shootout was tough and it could have gone either way. She also refused to blame one play or player for the loss.
“We need to take (losses) as a team, and we don’t put this on anybody,” she said. Johnson told her team how proud she was and that they need to leave with their heads held high.
For Johnson, the season was all about the kids.
“The relationships that you build with them, the effort that they put in, their determination, their drive, their desire. That’s what I’ll take. I’ll take the memories of these kids, and this team, and how they played together.”