Note: This story was originally published in a 2002 edition of the Northfield News and has been edited for length and clarity.
It didn’t take members of the Northfield High School boys soccer team long to realize what they had just achieved.
Granted, the Raiders were coming off a 2-0 loss to Totino-Grace in the Class A state championship game, but the team certainly made the Northfield community proud — along with themselves — with its second-place finish.
“It hurts right now to get second, but I think when we look back on it and the season we had, for us to get second place in the state really is an amazing thing,” Northfield senior Peter Christensen said. “This really is great, although it does hurt a little bit right now. Once it all sinks in, then it’s going to feel a lot better.”
“I’m completely happy with how everything turned out,” Northfield senior Toby Neal added. “Second is great. This is a lot more than anyone expected from us. I’m really proud of everyone and with how well we did up here.”
“There are 95 teams in Class A, and we finished second out of all of them,” Northfield coach Ben Danielson said. “This is so fun to end everything this way. It’s a really fun experience right now, because we’re celebrating all of the work these guys put in to get this far in the first place.”
A fitting end
For Neal and Christensen — and a host of other seniors who all played important roles for this team and in many ways put Northfield soccer on the map the last two seasons — this was a very fitting end to their high school careers. Neal and fellow seniors Zander Abbott and Karl Gleason were named to the Class A all-tournament team.
“I really couldn’t have asked for anything more,” Neal said. “ This was a great way to finish it off. It makes all of the work and all of the time worth it right now.”
“You’d like to end your career with a win, but finishing it at the dome in front of our great fans is a really good way to go out, too,” Christensen added.
Danielson has praised his senior core all season long. He says they should all take a great deal of pride for all they’ve done for Northfield soccer and for the new standards they’ve helped prove the Raiders can reach on the soccer field.
“For the seniors, this should mean a lot,” Danielson said. “They’re the first group to get up here and do this. And they didn’t just get up here and make an appearance — they got second place, which is just outstanding.
“And for all of the younger players on our bench and out in the community, this is evidence that we can — and should — be up here.”
Totino-Grace entered Tuesday’s championship game at the Metrodome as the likely favorite. The Eagles were the No. 1-ranked team in Class A and carried a 19-3 record into Tuesday’s game.
Northfield, meanwhile, was unranked but still solid, bringing a record of 15-6-1 into the state championship game.
Following the game, the Raiders’ players and coach admitted they can see why Totino-Grace was the top-rated team in the state coming into the tournament.
“Totino is the No. 1 team in the state and they were just amazing,” Neal said. “We played them pretty even and we played them up to their level, but they just made a couple of more plays than we did — and that was enough to win the game for them.”
“Totino-Grace is a very good team — and we hung right with them,” Christensen said. “They scored the one goal, but after that we really played well and had some good opportunities. They put in another one at the end when we were pulling up, but I thought we still played a good game against them.”
“We played the best soccer we can play in that second half and we were not able to score,” Danielson said. “That’s really a testament to how well they played on defense. We out-played them in that second half but just couldn’t get one by them.”
The Eagles score the only goal they would end up needing a little more than 15 minutes into the game. Freshman Brandon Miller took possession of a misplayed ball by the Raiders in their own end, and turned and fired for the goal.
Senior goaltender Nate Basinger had a beat on the ball, but while he was able to get a hand of the ball following a dive to his left, the ball had too much pace on it and rolled into the goal.
“They had such quick strikers that they were able to turn on a loose ball in front of the gal and put it in the net,” Danielson said. “Anytime you can score early in a game like this — like they did — then you really have an advantage for the rest of the game. They really played well with the lead and made it very difficult for us to tie the game.”
Although, it was not like the Raiders did not have their chances. Northfield finished with 11 shots on goal, four or five of them being legitimate shots at scoring. Some of their best:
- A pair of good chances with about 17 minutes left in the opening half off a corner kick by Gleason.
- Senior Nick Nelson’s shot from 20 yards out that just went over the net late in the first half.
- A header by junior Kirk Soule went just wide three minutes into the second half.
- A free kick from 25 yards out by Gleason that sailed just wide five minutes into the second half.
- A header by sophomore David Narvaez off a feed from sophomore Nate VanWylen that went wide of the goal.
- A hard shot by Neal that was just wide to the right side 10 minutes into the second half.
- A pass to senior Jesse Carlson from Christensen that was just a fraction too far for him to get his head on while one-on-one with the keeper 17 minutes into the second half.
- A point-blank shot by Narvaez — that resulted from solid work by senior Huynh Do and VanWylen to keep the ball in the Totino-Grace end — that was stopped by the keeper.
“We did get some good chances today, but we couldn’t find a way to put them away,” Christensen said. “But those types of things are going to happen. They had some god chances they didn’t put away, either. It could have been a different story if we put one or two of them away, but we didn’t. There’s nothing we can do about it now.”
But perhaps Northfield’s best chance came with six minutes to play in the opening half off a good push by Neal. Had his shot been a foot — or perhaps just six inches — to the left, the game likely would have been tied.
“It was another time where they tried to clear it out but just didn’t clear it enough,” Neal said. “I got it and put a move on a guy and then did a give-and-go with David Narvaez. And he had a great header to me. The left defender kind of made a lazy attempt and I beat him to the ball. But I went power over placement and it hit the side netting. It just nicked the outside of the post. It was close.”
And then with just 3:39 to play and Northfield being forced to press the issue at the other end, the Eagles cemented the game with the second goal from Miller. This one came against junior goaltender David Ehresmann, who played the entire second half for the Raiders.
Northfield advanced to the title game with a 1-0 victory over Proctor in a game Monday afternoon at the Metrodome.
It was a game the Raiders admitted they did not play nearly at the level they showed in their state tournament quarterfinal 1-0 victory over Benilde-St. Margaret, or even in the loss to Totino-Grace.
“We probably played better today than we did against Proctor yesterday,” Christensen said. “We didn’t play very well at all in the first half, but we stepped it up in the second half.”
“Usually we just seem to play well enough to win — that’s kind of how thing went for us all season,” Neal added. “But when we needed to step up, that’s when we did, and we ended up winning it.”
“We were really star struck in that first half,” Danielson said. “But then in the second half, after a good little halftime gathering, we got out and played very well and won that game. I really thought we stepped things up in the second half, controlled the play and found a way to score a goal.”
It was a goal from Neal that proved to be the game-winner for the Raiders. Following a give-and-go with Christensen, the senior midfielder drilled the ball home with a strong left-footed shot from about 15 yards away.