Momentum is almost impossible to quantify and just as difficult to attain. It’s elusive and fleeting, yet often determines the outcome of a game.
This enigmatic sense, though, could be felt in a palpable way on Tuesday night late in the second half as the Owatonna girls soccer team continued to attack the offensive zone and square-up a number of excellent scoring opportunities against Northfield in the opening round of the Section 1-AA tournament.
After the fifth-seeded Raiders tied the game in the 46th minute, the fourth-seeded Huskies slowly regained their shape before taking complete control down the stretch.
First, Grace Wolfe blasted a shot just over the net with roughly 27 minutes on the clock and then the Huskies came up dry on a great angle on a free kick before Asia Buryska sailed a solid look from straight on a mere foot over the crossbar with roughly 17 minutes on the clock. After another deep shot bounced just wide of the net and Anna Herzog’s chance from in close was smothered by the Northfield goalie, Herzog found herself in the right place at the right time and didn’t miss, tapping a rebound into the back of the net from in close with 2 minutes, 37 seconds on the clock.
Owatonna survived a last-ditch attack by the Raiders, stymied a corner kick with 31 seconds on the clock and held on for the exciting 2-1 victory at the Owatonna Soccer Complex.
“You could see it coming,” Owatonna coach Nate Gendron said of Herzog’s goal “The momentum had changed. They scored a goal, yeah, but our girls weren’t ready to go down. The ball was in our end the last 20 minutes quite a bit we had a number of chances. I looked at the girls on the bench and said if we find the net, we are going to come out with a win. Anna was in the right spot and she was able to attack the ball well and she earned the game ball with that game-winner. It was definitely huge for us. I am proud of the girls.”
The victory sets up a section semifinal rematch against top-seeded Lakeville South on Thursday at 5 p.m. in Lakeville. The Cougars defeated the Huskies earlier this season and eliminated Owatonna from last season’s section tournament with a 4-0 shutout on Oct. 11, 2018.
For Owatonna, Thursday not only represents a chance to get back at a team that has had their number in recent years, but advance to the section championship for the first time since many of the current players were in diapers.
“At this point we haven’t made it out of the second round in a long, long time,” Gendron said. “But this is a special group, and they know that we have nothing to lose. Our season ended at South last season and there is a little fight and revenge there, but even when we played them before we stayed with them. We played really well even though the score didn’t dictate that. It is going to be a fun battle to watch.”
The No. 9-ranked Cougars — who defeated Rochester John Marshall, 8-0, on Tuesday — beat the Huskies 2-0 on Sept. 14 and have just one loss in 15 games. Owatonna played South to a scoreless tie after 40 minutes on in the regular season before Emma Cin and Grace Ruhl found the back of the net in the second half to solidify the final score.
The Cougars allow just 0.3 goals-per-game and have eight players that have scored multiple goals. Ruhl leads the way with seven goals and two assists while Sammy Ponsonby leads the team with five assists and has chipped in four goals.
The Cougars’ only loss came on Sept. 17 against second-ranked Rosemount.
South has defeated four Big Nine Conference teams by a combined score of 20-0.
TUESDAY’S GAME FLOW
Owatonna came out of the gates on a mission against the Raiders and quickly took a 1-0 lead when Asia Buryska elevated a shot that caromed off the cross bar and slammed onto the grass behind the line before bouncing forward onto the pitch. The officials originally didn’t rule it a goal before talking things over and making the correct call.
The Huskies nearly scored again in the seventh minute on a shot from Abby Vetch and continued to assert themselves throughout the opening half, holding the Raiders from generating any significant scoring chances while keeping the pressure on the Northfield defense.
“We did a lot of homework on Northfield,” Gendron said. “I really studied what they did last game and who their main players were and we had a really tough practice yesterday. I got on the girls a little because they weren’t playing up to my expectation and I think that maybe stuck a little and we worked on hard-driven balls because we knew Northfield plays really direct and we put a lot of pressure on our defense. Offensively, we knew we needed to transition quickly and play to the outside and that homework helped out and the girls did awesome.”