Pirates force second-half tie, but can't hang on in 4-1 defeat to Green Wave
Going into Monday, Crookston girls' soccer hadn't scored in its last six games against East Grand Forks — a stretch dating back to Oct. 3, 2017.
Kenze Epema changed that.
Early in the second half, junior Aleah Bienek dribbled down the left wing before lofting the ball towards goal from 35 yards out. Kadynn Melquist came off her line to pick it up, but Epema got there first, tapping the ball into the recently-vacated net.
The Green Wave had outscored Crookston 60-0 in those previous six matches. Now the Pirates were just half an hour away from finishing off a 1-1 draw.
But Macie Stanislawski scored on a breakaway in the 64th minute, and Brooklyn Sayler scored one minute later to effectively put the game away. So despite Epema's rare goal, Monday's end result wasn't that much different after all, as East Grand Forks escaped Crookston (2-5), 4-1.
For 63 minutes, though, it felt different.
Crookston coach Sarah Reese made some changes after her team's last game, a 6-0 defeat at East Grand Forks last Tuesday. The most notable was moving Bienek, normally a defender, up top to pair with Epema. Reese wanted to try Bienek — who had missed two games earlier this season with a knee injury — in a different role.
In Epema's opinion, the two had good chemistry already, being as they normally play alongside each other on defense in hockey. Reese saw that and something else.
"Kenze is a very poised player, and she runs great angles," Reese said. "She's always in the right place at the right time. ... As Aleah has returned from her injury, she's been having really good shots, and one thing that I know about Aleah is that she has great field vision. She makes great passing under pressure."
That's exactly how the Pirates' goal materialized. And perhaps just as encouragingly, it came on the counterattack — an area where Reese had previously lamented her team's inability to generate opportunities from.
"When we played them last week, we didn't transition well from our midfield up to our forwards and we didn't support that package," Reese said. "Today we did much better with that transition game from defense to offense and vice versa. We took our outside mids and we placed them a little bit different than we did last week, and that appeared to bring out some of those passing lanes."
But Epema's goal wouldn't have been a game-tying one without a solid effort from the Pirate defense, led by Swanson in net. The freshman gave up a goal five minutes into the game, but proceeded to shut down East Grand Forks (5-1) for the rest of the half, making several diving stops and a clutch shin save with 13 seconds before halftime.
"She bounced back quickly mentally," Reese said. "Had great saves, had great punts, really put forth a team effort and did excellent today."
Unfortunately for Crookston, the Green Wave bounced back too. Stanislawski got free chasing after a through ball and slid it past Swanson, who came off her line, as Kailee Magsam couldn't get a foot on the ball despite a last-ditch slide. East Grand Forks kept up the pressure, and Sayler — who had a hat trick last Tuesday — scored on a close-range redirection past a defenseless Swanson.
Mya Langerud put the finishing touches on East Grand Forks' win with a final-minute volley from straight on.
Still, Crookston's performance Monday — at least for 63 minutes — seemed to vindicate Reese's statement from Tuesday, when she said the Pirates could "certainly" play with the Green Wave. On Monday, she elaborated on that belief.
"We've been constantly working on our mental game and feeling confident because we have great skills, we have lots of great talent, and it's about putting that all together on the field collectively," she said. " ... We just need to dig deep and have some grit, and it's certainly a winnable game."
Having scored Monday's milestone goal, Epema would appear to agree.
"It felt really good," she said. "It's been a while. We know that we can play against them. If we are to play them again, we're definitely gonna show up like we did today."
UP NEXT: Crookston will take on Hillcrest Lutheran on Thursday, Sept. 24, in the Pirates' final home game of the season. The Comets beat Crookston, 1-0, in Fergus Falls on Sept. 1.
There's a chance Crookston might be shorthanded against Hillcrest. Bienek left the game Monday after colliding with a Green Wave defender on the Pirates' goal, while Swanson was taken out due to a collision of her own with three minutes to play.
"Aleah was being evaluated for a couple specific things, as was Reese," Reese said. "I don't wanna speak to the specifics of their injuries, but they're both being evaluated and we're hopeful that they're back on Thursday, better than ever."
- 5:04: Macie Stanislawski (EGF) assist Brooklyn Sayler
- 45:51: Kenze Epema (Crookston) assist Aleah Bienek
- 63:10: Macie Stanislawski (EGF) assist Maggey Plante
- 64:20: Brooklyn Sayler (EGF) assist Grace Kronlund
- 79:53: Mya Langerud (EGF) assist Grace Kronlund
- Crookston: Reese Swanson 12 saves (7 first half, 5 second), Hanna Brouse 1 save (1 second half)
- East Grand Forks: Kadynn Melquist 5 saves (3 first half, 2 second)
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