Crookston routs Walker-Hackensack-Akeley to win play-in game
As Olivia Huck stood behind the flagpost and surveyed her corner kick, she decided to aim for right in front of the goalie. Just in the right spot for one of her teammates to get a head or foot on it and tap it in.
She never thought that she herself would be the one to score.
But the junior midfielder drove a low, fast grounder into the penalty box, and on its way there, it seemed to catch a few charitable blades of grass. The ball rolled past Walker-Hackensack-Akeley's stopper and tucked just inside the far post.
That was the kind of day Thursday was for Crookston. Just about everything went right — six players scored, two more had assists, and everyone on the varsity roster got playing time — in a 7-0 domination of Walker-Hackensack-Akeley in the Section 8A play-in game, the Pirates' third win over Walker this season.
It wasn't until the game was over, though, that Huck realized what she had done. She thought someone else had gotten their foot on it instead. Upon realizing, she could only laugh and exclaim, "Oh, sick!"
"I had no idea that went off of me," she said. "But that's awesome."
The Pirates (4-7) appeared energized, having had nine days off since their last regular-season game — coincidentally, also against the Wolves: a 4-0 win in Walker on Sept. 29.
Crookston tried to relax during that time off, focusing on that as much as the "nitty-gritty" details, as coach Sarah Reese put them.
"It really showed how we can be a team together," said senior forward Kenze Epema. "We really connected well, and it brought us to this win today."
Added Reese: "Sometimes we're a little too serious, and we need to spend some time having a little fun. We came prepared for the game and we said we gotta go out there, have fun, and take care of business."
Not that the Pirates were overlooking Walker, of course. Even though the Wolves came in 0-10, even though Crookston had begun its season with a 7-2 win over them on the same field as Thursday, Reese emphasized that beating a team three times in a year is a challenge no matter what. Her team appeared to take that to heart.
"We just couldn't come in with too big of a head," said junior midfielder Clara Meyer. "If we came in too big, we might crash under pressure."
Instead of crashing, it was Meyer who opened the scoring, taking a pass from Epema down the right wing and running all by herself to the edge of the box. With all the time in the world, she placed a precise shot for her second goal of the season.
Epema got into the scoring column herself just six minutes later, reeling in a long pass from Huck, taking two dribbles and slotting it past Brooke Vinkemeier at the last possible moment. She'd assist on the Pirates' next goal — a 52nd-minute strike by freshman forward Cassie Solheim, as well.
Epema (seven goals) and Solheim (six) came in Thursday No. 1 and No. 2 on the team in scoring. But the last half-hour of the game was a chance for other Pirates to step up. Senior midfielder Danielle Haake scored her first career goal in the 56th minute, and junior midfielder McKayla Brown scored in the 78th minute, those goals sandwiched around Huck's corner and another tally from Epema.
"McKayla Brown, she doesn't play varsity much but she sure kicked some butt today," Huck said. "It was awesome to see Dani score her first career goal. We love that for her."
Even junior Mallorie Sundeen, in her first year playing soccer, found her way onto the stat sheet with an assist on Brown's goal.
"It makes for a complete group effort," Reese said. "That tells me that we're using our field, that our players are confident and that we're also using all the opportunities. We don't just have one person that we're relying on to do all of the goalscoring, and that's really imperative to be successful."
Now, the task becomes keeping that momentum going. Next up for Crookston is No. 1 seed East Grand Forks (8-2-1) — a team that beat the Pirates twice during the regular season.
The Pirates know Tuesday's contest will be much more challenging. They won't have opportunities at will and for everyone like they did Thursday. So Reese is hoping that they can bank on two things that might carry over more: defense and mentality.
"We're trying to take the energy from this game and carry it into the next game," she said. "... Our defense had a stellar game today. Rylee Solheim and Dillynn Wallace and JoJo Wallace, and then at the end of the game, Nashalie Tellez.
"Dillynn's defense especially was awesome. She was winning balls, she was distributing balls, and certainly a contributing factor in (goalkeeper Reese Swanson) only having two saves, because the ball wasn't even getting past her. That doesn't show up in the stats very well, but it's really critical as we go into Tuesday."
UP NEXT: The Pirates will head to East Grand Forks to take on the Green Wave on Tuesday, Oct. 13. Kickoff time is slated for 7 p.m.
"We always get nervous when we're over there, and that's what the issue is," Huck said. "We need to get out of our heads and just play our game."
Added Haake: "We can't go in with the mindset that they're better than us. We know we can play to their level and keep right up with them the whole time."
- 10:50: Clara Meyer (Crookston) assist Kenze Epema
- 17:03: Kenze Epema (Crookston) assist Olivia Huck
- 52:00: Cassie Solheim (Crookston) assist Kenze Epema
- 56:00: Danielle Haake (Crookston) assist Olivia Huck
- 66:13: Olivia Huck (Crookston)
- 70:46: Kenze Epema (Crookston) assist Kailee Magsam
- 78:18: McKayla Brown (Crookston) assist Mallorie Sundeen
- Crookston: Reese Swanson 2 saves (0 first half, 2 second)
- W-H-A: Brooke Vinkemeier 10 saves (4 first half, 6 second)
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