Cloquet falls in heartbreaker at stateFor the first time in extra minutes this fall, Cloquet’s plan proved beatable in a shootout loss to Totino-Grace in a Class A quarterfinal on a brisk Thursday night at Roseville Area High School.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
ROSEVILLE, Minn. – Perhaps playing for a shootout seems crazy, yet for Cloquet girls soccer Coach Dustin Randall, that was the strategy.
Cloquet used penalty kicks twice en route to the state tournament, but it wasn’t “third time lucky” for the Lumberjacks last Thursday. For the first time in extra minutes this fall, Cloquet’s plan proved beatable in a shootout loss to Totino-Grace in a Class A quarterfinal on a brisk Thursday night at Roseville Area High School.
Two weeks ago, Cloquet cleared Princeton and Esko-Carlton in back-to-back sudden-death shootouts to win the Section 7A championship, but it was the third-ranked Eagles (16-2-2) that out-dueled the Lumberjacks 5-4 in a thrilling eight rounds.
“We didn’t want to give them anything,” Randall said after the game. “We got to a situation where we were happy; we were comfortable. And it just didn’t go our way.
Despite the defeat, Randall remained positive, praising his unseeded Lumberjacks’ (12-6-3) gutsy attempt.
“I don’t think they were ready for us,” Randall said. “It’s a bitter pill to swallow right now, but I’m proud of my girls. And they should be proud of their effort this year and proud of their effort tonight.”
Following an evenly-matched first half without many chances at all, Totino-Grace controlled pace throughout the second, including the final dozen minutes of regulation, driving balls off the post and crossbar moments after Cloquet goalkeeper Kenzie Rathe outstretched her arms for a stop.
“We caught a couple of breaks; a couple of posts, but you create that luck sometimes,” Randall said of their defensive strategy. “We played the third-ranked team in the state. And we had chances.”
The defensive-minded Lumberjacks – at times stacking 10 players in the penalty area – held strong throughout 100 minutes of play, until penalty kicks were needed.
Even then, they played to a draw in the first five penalty kicks, falling only in the eighth round of kicks. Esse was the first to score, followed later by Emily Rikkola, Alyssa Lamirande and Rebecca Hammond, before the Eagles’ Nicole Hagen beat Cloquet goalkeeper Kenzie Rathe in the upper corner and sent the Lumberjacks into despair at midfield.
“[Totino-Grace] was really good; they had good passing and created some chances at the net in the second half,” said Emily Rikkola, a Cloquet senior midfielder. “But we felt confident going into that shootout.”
Rathe, a 5-foot-11 senior, was stellar all evening, using her immense wingspan to record numerous saves. After the final goal passed her, she consoled her saddened teammates, noting although the season-ending defeat was disappointing, they gave their best efforts in the program’s seventh state tournament appearance.
“It’s definitely the best season I could have asked for my senior year; it ranks probably the highest,” said Rathe, who posted nine shutouts this year. “We did all we could. The girls played their hearts out and that’s all we could ask for. I’m proud of this team.”
While Cloquet entered its seventh state tournament since 2001, Totino-Grace – which finished fourth place Tuesday morning – made its11th appearance, including state titles in 2001, 2002 and 2007.
The Lumberjacks finished this season 12-6-3 overall.
“We were the underdogs; and I don’t think they expected us to be much competition,” Randall said. “But we came together with a game plan and stuck to it. Some girls had their best performances of the year.”