November 4, 2010 at 10:12 a.m.

Unheralded defender's goal lifts 'Cats over top seed Benilde

Ashley Ricci’s first goal of the year proved to be the difference as Chisago Lakes finishes fourth at state
Unheralded defender's goal lifts 'Cats over top seed Benilde
Unheralded defender's goal lifts 'Cats over top seed Benilde

Chisago Lakes 1, Benilde-St. Margaret's 0

Behind junior Ashlee Ricci's first varsity goal, the Wildcats shocked the world of Minnesota soccer by beating top-seeded, number one ranked Benilde-St. Margaret's 1-0 in the opening round of the girls' Class A state high school soccer tournament last Thursday, October 28 at Hopkins High School.

And the Wildcats won the game without the presence of head coach Chris Haggerty. Haggerty had a long-planned commitment that he could not change. Assistant coach Barry Hindt took over and the team didn't seem to miss a beat.

The game's first good scoring chance came in the 18th minute. The Red Knights sent a kick from the right corner into the middle of the Wildcat box. A wide open Red Knight player trapped the ball and started to shoot. Wildcat goalkeeper Mary Burch picked it right off her foot to thwart the scoring opportunity.

The Wildcats controlled play for the next 15 minutes or so, but did not generate any scoring opportunities. Benilde started to put on some pressure in the 32nd minute, generating several shots but no real scoring threats. In the 35th minute, Wildcat forward Cassie Trandahl made a nice run to the top right corner of the Red Knight box. She turned and kicked the ball high into the center of the box, but it was knocked over the crossbar without any further damage.

In the 38th minute, Benilde played a thru ball deep into the Wildcat zone down the left edge of the penalty box. A Benilde player broke free and looked like she would have a great scoring opportunity with no Wildcat defenders in the area. Burch took off on a dead run and barely beat the Benilde player to the ball, knocking it over the end line and relieving the pressure. The teams went into the half still tied at 0-0.

The Red Knights ramped up the pressure early in the second half. In the 45th minute, the Wildcat defense headed away a crossing ball. The ball sailed back into the box nearly a minute later, and Burch ran out and punched the ball away. She stopped the rebound, as well. The Wildcat defense blocked another shot from about 12 yards out. An offsides call on that play finally relieved the pressure. In the 51st minute, Burch jumped and gathered in a crossing ball from the left corner. 40 seconds later, a wide open Red Knight player ripped a shot from the top of the box that appeared headed just under the crossbar. Burch leaped high to snatch it out of the air and keep the game scoreless.

The Wildcats immediately counterattacked. After Burch's punt, the Wildcats got the ball to Trandahl near midfield. She made a nice run through the Benilde zone, weaving through several defensive players. She crossed the 18 yard line at the top of the box with two defenders closing in and the Red Knight keeper coming out to challenge her. The defenders knocked Trandahl over and the ball popped a few feet behind her and to the right. Ricci, following the play, one-timed it over the keeper's head and into the back of the net to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead.

The Wildcat goal seemed to wake up the Red Knights. In the 55th minute, the Wildcat defense blocked several shots in the box before Burch aggressively chased down and grabbed the ball to relieve the pressure. And after that flurry of shots, the Red Knights really started to press. They took a lot of shots, but most of them were from 25 yards or more out. The shots sailed high, wide or right into the arms of Wildcat keeper Burch. Benilde's best scoring opportunity came in the 71st minute. A wide open player took a hard shot form the top of the box. The ball went just over the fingertips of a leaping Burch and, fortunately, just over the crossbar.

The Wildcats almost got an insurance goal in the 74th minute. The Red Knight defense headed a ball back to their keeper, but the Wildcat defense was too close. The keeper dove on the ball, but a Wildcat player knocked it loose and got control of it. The keeper made a nice dive to her left to stop a low shot and keep the score at 1-0.

The Wildcats controlled play through the rest of the game. The Red Knights sent deep balls down the field to try to generate some quick scoring opportunities. The Wildcat defense did a good job of getting control of the ball and moving it to the other end. The last minute of the game was played down in the Benilde end. The Wildcats had several throw ins, each of which the Red Knights knocked out of bounds to generate another throw in.

With ten seconds left, the 300 or so Wildcat fans in attendance started the countdown: "10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1" and pandemonium ensued. As the Wildcat players raced out to the middle of the field, screaming, laughing and crying, the 100 or more members of the Chuck Love-led Wildcat student section jumped over the railing and poured out onto the field to share the moment with the players.

After the field had cleared and the teams had shaken hands, the Wildcats were still ebullient. The Benilde players weren't crying as they walked away. Instead, they had stunned looks on their faces.

Ricci is in her second year on the Wildcat varsity and was naturally pretty excited after the game. "I didn't even know I had scored," she said. "I shot the ball, heard the whistle and thought there was a call." Trandahl had a different view of the play. She said "I was about to take the shot when I got knocked down. I heard the crowd roar and thought 'wait, I didn't kick that in.' Ashlee was standing over me and I said 'what happened'? And she said 'It went in'! It was the best feeling of my life. I think I'm going to go home and throw up"! Burch, whose heads-up play helped to keep the Red Knights off the scoreboard, said "This is as fun as it gets! This is so cool."

The Wildcat coaches helped to limit Benilde's chances with the ball by subbing liberally in the last 15 minutes of the game. Every time they sent in a sub, they sent a player up to the line for the next opportunity. On virtually every goal kick and Wildcat throw in, a Wildcat player entered the game, usually replacing a player on the far side of the field. Each substitution at up 15 or so seconds off the clock and was beyond the control of the Red Knights. "I'll have to give Rick [assistant coach Bouwens] credit for that one," said Hindt. "Doing the constant substitutions was his idea."

Hindt was understandably proud of the Wildcats. He said "I told the girls at halftime if we score one goal we will win this thing. After the game, their coach said we were the best team they played all year. This is insane! Who knows what can happen in the next game. These girls deserve the opportunity to play in the Dome. This is really a nice group of kids." Haggerty, who had been receiving updates throughout the game, was also proud of the team. "I won't be able to sleep tonight" he said.

Rogers 1, Chisago Lakes 0

The Rogers Royals scored just six minutes into the state championship semifinal game. Wildcat keeper Mary Burch kept the team in the game with several great saves. But the Wildcats couldn't get the equalizer and lost 1-0 to end their state tournament run. The game was played this past Monday, November first at the Metrodome.

The Royals' goal came on an impressive shot. Form about 23 yards out in the center of the field, Jess Bianchi ripped a shot into the upper right corner of the net that Burch never had a chance at.

Rogers kept up the pressure. In the ninth minute, Wildcat defender Hannah Fredrickson headed away a corner kick that got deep in the box. In the 13th minute, midfielder Whitney Tinjum want down with a knee injury and was replaced by Kara Herr. Just over a minute later, the Royals took a shot from 20 yards out that bounced off the outside of the left post.

The Wildcats first scoring opportunity came in the 16th minute. Cassie Trandahl was fouled on the left edge of the Rogers penalty box about ten yards out from the end line. Megan Karwand sent the free kick into the center of the box, but the Royal defense knocked it away. Rogers counterattacked and got the ball down into the Wildcat box. A shot from in deep appeared headed inside the left post, but Burch dove to her right to knock it just wide.

In the 23rd minute, Rogers took a free kick near the left sideline about 30 yards out from the goal line. The ball headed towards the left corner of the net and Burch again dove to her right and tipped it wide of the post. In the 33rd minute, the Royals played a dangerous looking through ball into the Wildcat box, but Gwen Vitalis beat the Rogers player to the ball and sent it out of harm's way. The half ended with Rogers leading 1-0.

In the first minute after halftime, the Wildcats showed some life on offense. Rachel Diers blocked a clearing attempt about 40 yards out in the Rogers zone. She turned to her right and sent a through ball to Marissa Alliegro down the left edge of the box. Alliegro got off a shot, but it was blocked by the defense.

In the 46th minute, it looked like the Wildcats were going to tie the score. Diers took a corner kick from the right corner. Ashlee Ricci, standing in the middle of the box headed the ball past the outstretched arms of the goalkeeper on one bounce toward the inside of the left post. But the defender manning that post got to the ball just before it crossed the goal line and kicked it away.

Burch made two more saves to keep the Wildcats in the game. In the 53rd minute, the Wildcat defense coughed up the ball at the top of the box. They quickly shot the ball to Burch's left and she snatched it out of the air. Two minutes later, the Royals took a low shot towards the left corner of the net from the middle of the box. Burch dove to her right to knock it wide.

Rogers kept up the pressure, with some shots sailing wide and others right at Burch. The Wildcats finally got the ball out of their end and got another scoring opportunity in the 73rd minute. From deep in the Rogers zone, the ball was played back to Karwand about 40 yards out. She lofted the ball to the top of the box, and Diers headed a shot wide to the right of the net.

Rogers nearly salted away the game in the 77th minute. A forward got free deep in the Wildcat box and shot along the ground at a wide open net. But her aim was off and the ball rolled just outside the left post.

The Wildcats had one last chance to tie it. The Wildcats were awarded a free kick from 27 yards out in line with the right side of the box with 18 seconds to go. The referee stopped the clock to allow the Wildcats time to set up for the kick. Megan Karwand hit the ball well and it looked like it was going to go in for an instant, but the ball sailed about two feet over the crossbar. The last few seconds ticked off the clock, and the Wildcats went down to defeat.

"The occasion got to us a bit," said Wildcat head coach Chris Haggerty. "The players were enjoying the experience till warmups started and they started looking around. We didn't really get a chance to get in stride. On their goal, the defense backed away instead of pressing and allowed them to take the shot."

Haggerty was proud of his team's performance this season. "We shocked a lot of people," he said. "This state tournament run put us on the soccer map and now people will sit up and take notice of us. Rogers simply played better than we did today. I hope this is the first of many state tournament appearances for us."

Haggerty talked about the solid defense and goalkeeping he had this season. "He said "When we lost to Benilde in the regular season, Mary Burch made a couple of mistakes. Ever since then, she has worked hard, stayed focused and kept us in a lot of games. The defense was one of our keys to success this season Hannah Trandahl and Megan Karwand have really been solid on defense, as have Katie Johnson and Hannah Frederickson."

Haggerty was pleased with the buzz his team generated this season. He said "I'd like to thank the fans and the school for their support. I also want to thank Barry Hindt and Rick Bouwens for doing a great job as assistants. This has been a fun season for the girls and we've had some great highlights."


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