Speed kills as Pirates run past Walker-Hackensack-Akeley, 7-2
It was clear from the beginning that Walker-Hackensack-Akeley couldn't keep up with Crookston — figuratively and literally.
It started with a long ball down the middle. Kenze Epema latched onto it, and already, she had no one to beat but the goalkeeper. She sprinted into the box, drew the goalie out of position, and scooted the ball across to Cassie Solheim for the easy tap-in.
Eighty-two seconds in, the Pirates led 1-0. They wouldn't look back.
Behind an aggressive offense predicated on speed up top and accurate passing, Crookston stretched its lead to four and weathered a late Wolves push to slam the door shut, scoring three times late in the second half to put away W-H-A, 7-2, in theirseason opener Thursday afternoon.
"If we can score in the first two minutes, that really sets the tone," said head coach Sarah Reese. "It creates this mentality about how the rest of the game's going to go."
So it figures that Solheim, the one to get it going, was the one to finish it. The freshman scored two of the Pirates' final three goals, completing her second career hat trick, which went along with an assist on Crookston's second goal, scored by Epema.
"She has absolutely excellent footwork and confidence," Reese said. "She's the package deal. ... It's also important to mention that she's a team player."
It's important to mention because it wasn't just Solheim on Thursday. It was her strike partner, Epema, who found the net twice and assisted on two other goals — and more specifically, the combination of the two Pirates up top that the Wolves had no answer for.
"We like to call ourselves the dynamic duo," Epema, a senior, said.
There's a good reason for that.
"Kenze's a very strategic player," Reese said. "She's a distributor, she has a certain range of shot that she prefers. Cassie's run-and-gun, likes the green space. Kenze likes to be in the middle and work out of that space. They have very complementary skills. They have to be able to work autonomously, but they also have to be able to work as a team, and that's their bread and butter."
Make no mistake — this was a total team win for the Pirates. Reese implemented a brand-new 3-1-4-2 formation, creating a defensive midfield role which junior Olivia Huck filled to perfection. Not only did Huck provide solid defensive cover for the Pirates' back line, she also linked up play to their forwards and midfielders, finishing with two assists herself.
Crookston's offense flowed forward all game. Just ahead of Huck was junior Clara Meyer, who finished with a goal and an assist apiece. Meyer spent most of the afternoon lacing through balls or lobbing long passes over the defense towards Solheim and Epema. The dynamic duo got on the end of their fair share of them, running through the Wolves' back line and pelting the net with shots from everywhere.
"I knew a few (W-H-A defenders) weren't as quick," Epema said. "So I could just zoom right past them."
After having been torched to the tune of a 3-0 deficit within 20 minutes, Walker-Hackensack-Akeley started playing a higher line defensively, hoping to catch Solheim and Epema offsides rather than trying to run with them. This worked for a stretch — the Wolves forced a handful of offside calls and played at their pace more in the second half, halving the deficit in the 64th minute thanks to two strikes from close range.
But Solheim found the net, Kailee Magsam (So.) flew down the flank to make it 6-2, and Solheim finished off her hat trick — all within two minutes.
"Just seeing them score made me know that we needed to get back up," Solheim said. "We were starting to get down on ourselves and we needed to build our confidence again."
And in no time at all, the Pirates had, indeed, built their confidence back up — and won their season opener for the first time since 2016. That's what speed does.
UP NEXT: The Pirates travel to Fergus Falls next Tuesday to take on Hillcrest Lutheran. Last season, Crookston went 0-3 against the Comets and lost to them, 7-0, in the Section 8A playoffs.
- 1:22: Cassie Solheim (Crookston), assist Kenze Epema
- 12:52: Kenze Epema (Crookston), assist Cassie Solheim
- 15:41: Clara Meyer (Crookston), assist Olivia Huck
- 48:41: Kenze Epema (Crookston), assist Clara Meyer
- 56:12: Gabby Cairns (WHA), assist Ellen Hopen
- 60:13: Gabby Cairns (WHA), assist Ellen Hopen
- 65:23: Cassie Solheim (Crookston), assist Olivia Huck
- 66:21: Kailee Magsam (Crookston), assist Kenzie Epema
- 67:17: Cassie Solheim (Crookston)
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