CEC makes strong showing at state, but falls in first round to powerhouseDespite being heavy underdogs, the first-time entrant Lumberjacks held their own against Benilde-St. Margaret’s in a closely-fought 2-1 Class A boys soccer state quarterfinal loss Thursday night at Husky Stadium in St. Cloud.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
ST. CLOUD – Some may say facing a four-time state champion Twin Cities boys soccer powerhouse with a handful of all-state players and Mr. Soccer would be a daunting task for a small northern team in its first-ever state tournament.
Cross Cloquet-Esko-Carlton off that list.
Despite being heavy underdogs, the Lumberjacks exchanged blows with juggernaut Benilde-St. Margaret’s in a tight-fought 2-1 loss during a Class A boys soccer state quarterfinal match last Thursday night at Husky Stadium in St. Cloud.
Benilde seniors Brendan Schember and Jake Horton strung together first-half goals just over three minutes apart to lead the
second-ranked Red Knights (18-2-1) to the narrow, come-from-behind win over the unseeded Lumberjacks.
“We came out and played,” said CEC Coach Archie Clark. “[Benilde] knew they were in a game today. There’s no doubt about it.”
Lumberjack senior striker Landen Straub surprised everyone Thursday when the 6-foot-2 forward netted his team-best 24th goal of the season in the 11th minute after he headed Derek Anderson’s pass to himself, dribbled into the penalty area and tapped it past Red Knight’s goalkeeper Kevin Lebahn.
“I just wanted to get something for us to start,” said an emotional Straub afterward.
However, less than three minutes later, Schember scored the equalizer in the 14th, while three minutes after that Horton sank a cross from teammate Matteo Potter, flicking the ball past a diving CEC senior keeper Jarad Weeks for the eventual game-winner.
“We kind of lost our way a bit,” said Clark. “And when you fall behind, you have to make some adjustments to get the ball moving forward again.”
The Lumberjacks did exactly that: adjust. Following intermission, CEC possessed the ball better, creating a handful of cracks to neutralize things.
Not even three minutes in, Straub was stuffed on a breakaway within 15 yards of the net, while a dozen minutes later, senior Sam Longseth misfired wide right and sophomore Ben Vuicich couldn’t capitalize on Longseth’s centering pass into the 18-yard box with six minutes remaining.
“To tell you the truth, we had a number of chances in front of their goal, if only we got a touch on it or a head on it, it could have been a different story,” Clark said. “That second half was one of the best halves of soccer we have played all year, against a real quality team. If we would have tied it up, I think we might have won.
“They played marvelously, I was so proud,” he continued. “Just a goal short.”
The Lumberjacks closed the year 14-4-2.
Straub’s early mark was just the eighth goal Benilde has issued all year and the first in the postseason. The frequent state tourney entrants and champs of 1997, 2000, 2003 and 2006 are an experience-laden bunch this fall paced by their 15 seniors, three who were awarded all-state honors. One, John Mulvahill, was named Mr. Soccer.
“Benilde is very good, they possess very well,” said Clark of the Red Knights, who played Thursday morning for yet another state title at the Metrodome against top-ranked, undefeated and defending Class A champ Prairie Seeds Academy. “They’re loaded.”
“Their forwards are strong and fast,” said Anderson, a senior midfielder. “They move the ball. All the credit to them, they played really well.”
Despite being physically out-skilled, CEC countered punches with one of the state’s most decorated programs. It was a feat many didn’t expect.
“We put up a fight and had plenty of opportunities,” said Straub. “We just didn’t put them in. They did. And here we are.”
“Northland teams usually don’t get the opportunity to play these Cities’ powerhouse teams,” added Hunter Leon, a senior midfielder named an all-state honorable mention. “I think we gave them a run for their money.”
Despite the scoreboard’s count, the Lumberjacks were far from losers Thursday night walking off the field into the locker room.
“Even though we didn’t come out on top in the end, I feel we made a wake-up call,” Straub said. “I think they underestimated us, but we put up a fight.”
“Hopefully we’ll get some more respect for our section up north,” said Anderson. “We’re not going to hang our heads, we played really well. When we look back on this over the years, it’s going to be something we’re going to remember and be happy about.”
Although he had to fight tears walking to the bus, Leon didn’t forget the big picture either.
“We’re the first team to ever go to state for CEC [boys soccer], I think that’s a great thing for our program,” Leon said. “Hopefully other generations can carry that on.”
CEC boys win sportsmanship award
Cloquet activities director Tom Lenarz received this note from Jerry Sillanpa of the Lake Superior Soccer Referee Association earlier this week:
“Congratulations to your boys soccer team and coach Archie Clark as the recipients of the 2011 Lake Superior Soccer Referee Association (LSSRA) Team/Coach Sportsmanship Award.
On behalf of the LSSRA organization I thank you, Coach Clark and your boys for the sportsmanship that was shown at their soccer games.”
That’s an award worth cheering about.