U-14 team second in fall festival

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 1, 2002

The Albert Lea Elks U-14 soccer team finished as runner-up in the 2002 state Fall Harvest Festival.

After opening with a hard-fought 1-0 shutout of Cambridge-Isanti, the locals lost 3-0 to the Westside Cougars in the title game.

The Cambridge-Isanti goalie felt good. In spite of steady pressure on the left from Albert Lea forwards Rich Needham and Dustin Wangen and forwards Jake Thompson and Jonathan Bosma pressing from the right, he’d been able to stop their shots. The Elks’ lethal center midfielders, A.J. Kortz, Leah Walters and Whitney Wilson, had done the most damage in previous games and remained a real threat, but strong play at sweeper kept them at bay. Midfielders Stephen Bera and Eric Bowron kept play in Cambridge-Isanti’s half, but were unable to capitalize.

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The real problem for Cambridge-Isanti was Albert Lea’s defense.

They could not crack it, so Albert Lea was out-shooting them by a 3-to-1 margin. Dez Jacobs, Chris Rahn and Bryan Yost traded off defender duties, shutting down attacks and limiting penetration.

What did get past the Elk defenders ran into sweeper Josh Svendsen.

Switching off at goalie, Amanda Arends and Adam Hutchison each made a few key stops, but saw much more action during their time on offense.

After losing both regular-season games to Albert Lea, Cambridge-Isanti played an inspired game, holding the Elks scoreless through regulation and deep into overtime. With only 60 seconds left in overtime, Cambridge-Isanti felt good about their chances of winning a shootout. But it wasn’t to be.

As the clock ticked down, the ball cleared out of the Cambridge box into the flat near midfield. Stopper Kendra Olchefske stepped up and left-footed a high rocket right under the bar and through the leaping goalie’s fingertips.

No one is completely certain of what happened in game two against Westside. The Albert Lea squad may just have been physically and emotionally spent. The Cougars weren’t that much better than the Elks.

When Westside scored in the opening minutes on an Albert Lea defensive error, the locals put themselves in a hole they could not climb out of. The Cougars played aggressively and the Elks responded in kind, but before the half ended Westside was up 2-0.

Albert Lea fought on, but it was in vain.

Westside won the championship 3-0.

There was disappointment, but satisfaction too. At the start of the season, no one thought they would finish 6-1-1, win the division and come in second at state. At the start, they were two different teams with two different cultures and two different styles of play. By the end, they were one team &045; and winners.

“This was a one-shot team,” noted assistant coach Lee Walters. “Next year they will be on their respective high school teams. But this season has changed most of them as players and as people. There is a new maturity to their game and greater mutual respect.”

“There were moments in these eight games where each player contributed to the team’s success,” observed assistant coach Robert Bera. “For some, it was passing the ball when their first instinct was to try and drive on the goal. For others, it was pushing forward and having confidence in the person backing you up. That trust made them a team.”

“From the outset, I said that the challenge for this season was to successfully blend two distinct soccer cultures,” said head coach Greg Wilson. “Historically, the boys played a fast, physical game that utilized creativity and personal initiative. The girls’ game emphasized ball control and tactical passing. How well each has assimilated the best traits from the other will be apparent next spring.”