Pirates find offense again in 5-1 win over Pelican Rapids
Crookston girls' soccer coach Sarah Reese has no qualms about switching things up. But with the Pirates looking to find their rhythm after two consecutive 1-0 losses last week, Reese's solution was to get back to what worked in the past.
Turns out, a hit is still a hit.
The Pirates (2-2) broke out of their slump by blowing out Pelican Rapids, 5-1, at home Tuesday afternoon, behind a balanced offense led by two goals by Kenze Epema (Sr.) and a rock-solid defensive performance.
Prior to Tuesday, the last time Crookston had scored was on Aug. 27 against Walker-Hackensack-Akeley. The Pirates had gone with an offensively-minded 3-1-4-2 formation then, and it had paid off to the tune of seven goals. Against the Vikings, Reese, looking to generate more opportunities, called on it again.
It was Epema who broke the Pirates' 180-minute scoring drought. After a back-and-forth, up-and-down first five minutes, she took advantage of a Pelican Rapids defender slipping to score on a breakaway, firing a hard, low shot into the left corner.
"I just knew I needed to be controlled and poised," Epema said. "I picked a corner and put her in."
From there, Crookston didn't look back. Keona Arnold (Fr.) found the net 20 minutes into the game when Clara Meyer's (Jr.) shot banged off the crossbar. The ball shot straight down, though, and Arnold won a battle in front of the net to get a foot on it and put it in.
The Pirates' third goal was more sheer speed than anything else. Olivia Huck (Jr.) played a long ball out of the back, arched over two Pelican Rapids center backs. Cassie Solheim (Fr.) blazed between them both to win a footrace for the ball, and finished off the run with a soft chip into the upper-left corner.
"It's kind of like connect the dots," Reese said. "If we can connect the dots, good things will happen."
Epema didn't waste any time in increasing the 3-0 halftime lead. Three minutes into the second half, after some tight play in the penalty box, she redirected a close-range shot from Huck into the net for her fourth goal of the season.
Crookston's offensive distribution was on display throughout the game, too. In the 58th minute, Meyer delivered an inch-perfect ground cross from the right side of the penalty box. The recipient was Maddie Harbott (8), unmarked at the far post, who stayed calm and put home her first varsity goal.
"It's nice just to have other people scoring and not just me and Cassie scoring all the time," Epema said. "It's nice to see the other girls get excited."
Pelican Rapids (1-2) picked up a consolation goal in the final minutes when Tatianna Wiley beat two defenders down the field and scored on a breakaway.
While the Pirates were in control in possession for most of the game, the Vikings, surprisingly, had just as many shots on goal, with 13. The difference for Crookston, though, was in its clinical finishing.
"We had scoring from all over the field," Reese said. "It's not about wham-slamming the ball, it's about being in the right place and having a nice touch and looking at the net, and having that patience to put the ball in the net."
That task fell mostly to Epema, Solheim, Arnold and Harbott. But Meyer and Huck — who had three and two assists, respectively — and the rest of the Pirate midfield methodically engineered that performance.
"Clara, at the beginning of the game, was playing a center-mid position, and then we moved her to the outside and she just had the most pristine passing," Reese said. "It was right to people's feet, perfectly placed. ... Olivia Huck just had great balls, a lot of crosses over the top. Our outside mids had fantastic connections."
But the bedrock of Crookston's win was its defense. Reese Swanson (Fr.), who had 12 saves, was strong coming off her line all afternoon, while the three Pirates directly in front had their goalkeeper's back.
Part of the reason Reese switched back to the 3-1-4-2, in the first place, was because normal right back Aleah Bienek (Jr.) was out dealing with a knee injury. This meant that the outside midfielders had to track back more, while Dillynn Wallace (Jr.), JoJo Wallace (8) and Rylee Solheim (Jr.) pinched into the center of the field.
"They played just awesome," Reese said. "Team effort in defense. They were making runs for each other, playing help defense, squeezing, stepping at the right time. All the little things."
That allowed everyone else in the 3-1-4-2 to do their jobs — and ensured that Crookston's latest use of the formation was just as successful.
UP NEXT: The Pirates travel to Detroit Lakes on Thursday for a rematch with the Lakers (3-1), who won 1-0 in the teams' prior matchup on Sept. 3 in Crookston.
Reese isn't sure if Bienek will be back in time for the game against the Lakers, but said she hoped Bienek would be 80 percent in Wednesday's practice and able to go from there.
"We're hoping she'll be back on Thursday but we're not really sure," Reese said. "Detroit Lakes, of course, we'll have our work cut out for us. ... But we want her to be feeling good and ready to come out full force."
- 5:48: Kenze Epema (Crookston), assist Clara Meyer
- 20:44: Keona Arnold (Crookston), assist Clara Meyer
- 35:30: Cassie Solheim (Crookston), assist Olivia Huck
- 42:14: Kenze Epema (Crookston), assist Olivia Huck
- 57:55: Maddie Harbott (Crookston), assist Clara Meyer
- 72:00: Tatianna Wiley (Pelican Rapids)
- Crookston: Reese Swanson 12 saves (5 first half, 7 second half)
- Pelican Rapids: Grace Haugrud 8 saves (2 first half, 6 second half)
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