PREP GIRLS' SOCCER: Eagles down Trojans, 6-2
WORTHINGTON -- There were miserable conditions on Tuesday for the Worthington girls' soccer team's home opener against New Ulm, the weather mirroring what was a rough start to the Trojans' home schedule.
With the game played under a light, steady drizzle, New Ulm took an early 2-0 lead and increased the advantage to 5-1 at halftime, eventually earning a 6-2 victory despite a strong second half from WHS.
Worthington showed a lot of potential in the loss, but in the end the team's mistakes were too great to overcome.
The first obstacle to overcome was playing the entire match with a slick ball in the wet conditions.
"We just knew that we had to control the ball better and kick it harder and make sure that we got a good foot on it, or else it would slip," WHS junior Nikki Russell said.
New Ulm took the lead 5:48 into the game with a goal by senior Angie Serbus, who played a role in almost every single one of her team's goals.
After the Trojans averted disaster when a corner kick slipped through goalkeeper Alivia Rowley's hands, New Ulm followed with a corner kick from Nicole Molstad that sailed straight to Serbus' head. Serbus headed the ball low, with the ball skipping past the WHS defense and Rowley to make the score 1-0.
Just under three minutes later, New Ulm added a second goal with Serbus setting up a long-range shot for Alicia Evenson, which found the net after deflecting off of a diving Rowley.
Worthington didn't get its first look at goal until a shot from Lydia Kemper sailed wide 16 minutes into the game, with New Ulm keeping the Trojan defense under constant threat.
New Ulm broke through for a third goal 26:16 into the game, with Serbus lobbing a pass from midfield straight to Kylie Walterman in front of the WHS net. Walterman volleyed the ball straight past Rowley.
However, 40 seconds later Worthington narrowed the lead to 3-1 with a goal by Russell.
Alina Keodouangsy set up the goal with a corner kick that sailed into the goal square, but went untouched before bouncing to the feet of Russell, who placed a beautiful left-footed strike into the top-right corner of the net.
"I remember Smitty always told me to be on the opposite back, and then it just came to me and I just tapped it like we do in practice with my left foot, and it just went in," Russell said.
New Ulm scored two more goals in the half -- the first by Serbus and the second by Peyton Lewis on an assist from Serbus -- with both goals coming on high shots that were out the reach of Rowley.
"You've just got to hope your hands are there to stop it," Rowley said of protecting against the high shots.
After a halftime talk from head coach Smitty Ektnitphong, the Trojans came out as a different side in the second half.
"We got out of our game in the first half," Ektnitphong said. "I think after the score was 2-0 and then 3-0, all of the sudden the girls got down on themselves. I challenged them, I said, 'We cannot go down without fighting. We have to go out and try to win the ball.' We allowed New Ulm to win all the possession in the first half. We were not challenging them, we didn't hustle to the ball to distract the ball-handler. That's probably the difference between the second half and the first half."
New Ulm scored 2:59 into the half on a high shot that slipped over Rowley's knuckles as she tried to punch the ball high of the goal, but Rowley went the remaining 37 minutes without allowing a goal while registering eight saves (13 total in the game).
"I felt like I did a lot better," Rowley said. "I was just trying to keep my head up and just do my best."
The Trojan players were much more successful getting to the ball ahead of their New Ulm counterparts in the second half, which is how the team was able to score its second goal.
The WHS midfield managed to get the ball back behind the New Ulm defense at the 56:33 mark and Keodouangsy displayed her phenomenal speed by reaching the ball first and slotting a low strike past New Ulm goalkeeper Shelby Smith.
"You know in soccer, speed kills," Ektnitphong said. "In high school they like to bring everybody up, they give you a 40-yard head start. If you poke that ball through and you get a good touch, you're one-on-one with the goalie."
The Trojans also managed to set up more fast-break opportunities in the ensuing minutes, but were unable to convert, sending a couple of shots high. Smith also did a good job of ranging out from the goal mouth to gather through balls from the Worthington midfield.
Besides Keodouangsy, freshman Ana Castillo displayed some speed up front and Kemper also had one particularly good run down the wing with 11 minutes remaining, which ended with her shot missing just high.
"Lydia, what can you say about her?" Ektnitphong said. "If this girl can get a good touch on the ball, she's gone. The last couple of times she was able to outrun everybody on the right side. If she is able to control the ball better for us as the year goes on, I think we're going to have a really good chance."
Rowley made six catch-saves and punched two balls clear at the post in the second half to end her night on a high note.
"We did a lot better in the second half," Rowley said. "If we played like that the whole game, we could have won."
Worthington will play at home again Thursday, with St. Peter coming to town.
Ektnitphong is hoping that his young squad continues to learn from experiences like Tuesday night's game.
For Thursday, he particularly hopes his team understands just how valuable it will be to give Keodouangsy more chances to use her speed up front.
"Alina, I think if she had more touches, she could do a lot of good for us," Ektnitphong said. "We've got to be able as a team to get her that ball, and I think everyone sees it. They see the importance of Alina getting the ball. Hopefully Thursday when we come out we'll do a better job of connecting the ball to Alina and see what happens."
Russell also noted a few more things for the team to work on before Thursday.
"I think we need to work on crossing the ball, getting to the ball first and our first touches," Russell said.
Kickoff on Thursday will be at 6:15 p.m.
New Ulm 5 1 -- 6
Worthington 1 1 -- 2