Tigers second in tourney

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Rick Barnhill left Hammer Field a happy man Saturday. The Albert Lea varsity girls’ soccer team split its games in the Tiger Invitational, dropping Mankato East 7-0 before falling to Visitation 3-0. But Barnhill was upbeat about both performances, citing how the Tigers’ quality of play will affect the balance of the season and the implications for future seasons.

&uot;I am very proud of the way the team played in each game,&uot; said the new head coach. &uot;The girls carried the attack to both teams, playing with great emotion and high energy. They dominated East from the first whistle and effectively challenged one of the metro’s top programs under a hot midday sun. In both games, they played to a level I knew they were capable of.&uot;

Mankato East is a Big Nine and Section 2A opponent. The Tigers face the Cougars only once in the regular season, so Saturday was worth two games. Stacie Armstrong had a very good day. In the last 15 minutes of the first half, she got her first goal of the season. And her second. And her third, for the Tigers’ first hat trick this year. Laura Hillman opened in the scoring in both halves, finding the net at 3:42 and 43:34 for her third and fourth goals of the season. Whitney Wilson shadowed Hillman’s feat, notching her second and third goals at 19:53 and 55:10, respectively.

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Leah Walters chalked up a hat trick for assists with Amanda Arends, Jenna Christensen and Tessa Christensen contributing one apiece.

&uot;It was sweet to sweep and shut out the

Mankato teams (Loyola, West, East) 10 goals to nothing,&uot; observed Barnhill. &uot;Especially knowing that each of them are in our section too. We still have much work to do and there is no free pass to the Metrodome, but this team is on the right track and looking good against potential postseason foes.&uot;

According to a poll in the Minneapolis paper, Visitation is considered one of the Top 10 contenders for a Class A title this year. For three quarters of the game, Albert Lea looked like No. 11. The Tigers mounted a relentless offensive against the Blazer goal with several shots and headers going wide or over by narrow margins. Early in the game, the momentum was all Albert Lea with the Blazer defensive third under near-constant threat. The Blazers were on their heels and, judging from the volume coming from their coach, not where they expected to be after their 12-0 pasting of Worthington.

&uot;Sure, in the second game, we could have bunkered in,&uot; noted Barnhill. &uot;But everyone was playing so well, that I opted to take a high-pressure game to Visitation. The Tigers did not disappoint. It was a one-goal game for over 60 minutes. I could hear the Blazer bench and coach becoming more and more rattled by their inability to counterattack effectively against us. Every time we emptied out the back on set plays, the Visitation coach become even more frustrated. They only got the upper hand near the end, when our athletes were wilting in the heat and running on fumes. Albert Lea played with heart and left everything on the field, which is what champions do. Coach Adams told me how impressed he was with the Tigers. I just wish the girls could get another crack at them on a Tuesday night.&uot;