ALEXANDRIA — Two girls soccer programs that look like early contenders in the Section 8AA field met in Alexandria on Thursday night where St. Cloud Tech used a strong first half to get an important early-season win.

The Cardinals (5-1) came into the game having dominated most of their opponents so far this season. They had outscored Moorhead, Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, Little Falls and St. Cloud Apollo by a combined 25-2. The Tigers (4-1-1) have also done it with their defense, allowing more than one goal just once in the opening six games during a 3-2 loss to East Grand Forks — another team out of Section 8AA.

That’s why an early two-goal lead for the Tigers was too much to overcome for Alexandria as St. Cloud Tech handed the Cardinals their first loss in a 2-0 final.

“I would say it was what we expected as far as competition,” Alexandria head coach Amy Korynta said. “I do think we had a lot of really great possession, and a couple of unfortunate goals (given up). I would imagine them and East Grand Forks (being good) in our section…We didn’t play poorly. We just weren’t able to capitalize on opportunities.”

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St. Cloud Tech sophomore Molly Burkstrand, 7, celebrates her goal with teammates midway through the first half that gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead in Alexandria.

Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

The Tigers got on the board near the 20-minute mark off of a corner kick that was sent close to the goal and knocked off an Alexandria defender. It was not long after that when sophomore Molly Burkstrand found just enough space to fire a hard shot that got by Alexandria keeper Sophia Vinje inside the left post.

“The first one was on a corner kick, and our player was where she was supposed to be on that post,” Korynta said. “It was just missed contact with the ball. It went off of her and went in, so she was where we want them to be. The second goal, she took a long shot and I don’t think we were ready for the shot.”

Alexandria started to apply more pressure in the second half, but Tech senior goalkeeper Abby Wright withstood the challenge. She went to her knees to cover up a ball that Ella Westlund fired on net from the right side. Wright got to a loose ball in front of the net with players all around her after a corner kick for the Cardinals with nearly 22 minutes remaining.

Alexandria’s best chance at cutting the deficit in half came with almost 16:25 left. Junior Elle Heydt just missed on a penalty kick when the ball hit the top bar and ricocheted down and outside the goal line. Again on a corner kick late in the game, Wright made a save on an Alexandria shot right in front of her to preserve the shutout.

“She made the saves she had to. I give her credit,” Korynta said of Wright in goal for the Tigers. “I wouldn’t say we hugely tested her. Could she go high? Could she go low? I don’t know that we were placing the ball as well as we have some games. Again, it’s something to work on. We’ve been working on getting our shots off more quickly, so we just need to keep working on that.”

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Alexandria senior Ella Westlund goes to the ground near the goal during a collision with St. Cloud Tech’s Jayna Benson on Sept. 8, 2022.

Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Korynta felt it was definitely the most physical game of the season for Alexandria so far. Many players hit the ground throughout the night as both teams fought hard going after the ball.

“That’s soccer,” Korynta said. “You got to be able to play physical, play aggressive. I wouldn’t say any of it was cheap. It was just aggressive and physical.”

St. Cloud Tech has the athletes to match the speed of the Cardinals. Now Korynta is eager to see how her team responds after its first loss.

“No one likes to lose, but you learn so much from losing,” she said. “We can analyze, ‘What do we need to work on?’ We’d rather lose now than playoffs, so this is that growing process. It stinks to lose, but at the end of the day, it’s an opportunity to grow. Ella Westlund, one of our captains said that. She just said, ‘Use this as an opportunity to grow you guys.’ The season isn’t over, and it’s a process. We got to finish and capitalize on opportunities.”

There is still much of the regular season left to play, but the Section 8AA field looks like a competitive race with three teams at the top right now. East Grand Forks joins the Tigers and Cardinals in that mix, with the Green Wave going into a game with Moorhead on Thursday with a 2-0-1 overall record and that Aug. 29 win over St. Cloud Tech. East Grand Forks also has a 7-0 win over 8AA rival Little Falls from the season opener.

Thursday was just one game early in the regular season, and the Cardinals are confident they will be right there with any of these teams come the end of the season.

“We can’t let it affect our confidence,” Korynta said. “You take the things that maybe didn’t go our way and use those to learn in practice. I think we’ll be as confident as ever that come playoff time, we’ll be ready. We were ready tonight. I thought we came out with intensity. We just have to find ways to get the ball in the net.”



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