The mist was flowing behind a good breeze when the Princeton girls soccer squad took to the Duluth Public Stadium turf Oct. 15. The No. 6 seed Tigers battled to the soggy end, but it was No. 2 Duluth Denfeld walking off with a 1-0 victory in the Section 7A semifinal match.
The Hunters notched the lone score of the match 10 minutes into action by sending a header home off a corner kick driven into the southwest wind. Denfeld’s last good scoring chance came with 11:00 to go, but Tiger senior keeper April Schmidt made a cat-like one-armed save to keep the deficit at one.
Down the final seven minutes, Princeton applied a lot of heat in the Hunter end as seniors Brittany Beckman and Ashley Schramel got off shots from the left side. Freshman Maggie Peterson also raced after long balls in that end, forcing the Hunter keeper to come out a long ways from the net. Freshman Alanna Mattson sent another good shot on net as the Tigers fought for the tying goal.
“The last seven minutes were typical Tigers’ play. The girls who finished off the game had 53 of our 68 goals from last year. They were working hard trying to even it up for us against Denfeld. It just didn’t happen on that night,” said Tiger Coach Heidi Finstad. “I actually expected that pace from the very start of the game. It wasn’t the turf or rain for us, it was the size of the field. The field was the biggest we have ever played on and that was a factor. The girls needed to travel up and back as a team, and I don’t think we got into that until the final ten minutes. I wanted to end with our best game of the season, but that didn’t happen. However, we did end with Tiger-style soccer– applying high pressure and winning balls. And I am okay with that.”
The Hunters had a quickness advantage they used to control much of the play in the first half. The Tigers began adjusting and played the final six minutes of the half evenly with Denfeld.
The Hunters began the second half aggressively, including blasting a shot off Schmidt’s extended hand that caromed off the football goalpost and back onto the field. Off that corner kick scramble, Denfeld ripped another shot which again flew over the net.
Sophomore Erica Schramel followed five minutes later with a hard one-hopper on the Hunter net that was saved. As the half continued, bodies began getting knocked to the turf, and the Tigers sent more long balls into the Hunter end looking for any opening possible.
After Princeton’s final push faded with the 10-second countdown, it was an emotional hand-shake lineup and walk-off for the Tiger girls as the mist kept falling in Duluth.
“We had injuries all season. At one point we had three of our four seniors out– all center mids. I was happy to have all of them back for sections. They all worked very hard to do what they needed to do to get back to playing,” wrapped up Coach Finstad, whose daughter, Brittany Beckman, was one of those injured seniors. “As far as Brittany goes, nothing meant more to her than returning to this team. She worked seven days a week to be able to play her senior post-season with them. That work far outweighed her playing time, but I know looking back she will think that all the work was worth the few games she had on the field with them.”
“The girls have done a great job of building the program,” finished Coach Finstad, whose team ended with an 7-6-6 overall mark. “To get to the section semifinals in years three and four is an incredible statement on their part. I believe we are just around the corner from a section final. Yes, they love the game and their teammates. And they just keep passing that on to the new players coming in.”
• Denfeld went on to defeat Hermantown 1-0 in a shootout in the Oct. 17 Section 7A championship match. The Hunters (13-3-3) take on No. 2 seed Benilde-St. Margaret’s (15-3-1) in the Class A opener Oct. 24.
In Section 7A boys soccer, top-seed Hermantown defeated No. 2 Chisago Lakes 3-1 in their Oct. 17 finals. The Hawks (12-6-2) drew No. 2 seed Waconia (16-1-2) for the Oct. 25 ‘A’ State opener at Chisago Lakes. State semis and finals move inside the Metrodome Oct. 28-31.