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It has taken a few years, but Northern Minnesota high schools keep making strides onward and upward in soccer. At this stage, it might still stand that the Northern Minnesota teams can’t match the depth and skill levels of the Twin Cities powerhouses, but the first plateau on the way to competitiveness is to produce some outstanding individual players.
“Soccer is a team sport,” said Two Harbors coach Tom Szendrey. “If you have an outstanding player, you still have to have other good players to play with her.”
Szendrey knows what he’s talking about, and in his third year coaching the Agates he’s seen steady improvement. Last week was what he considered a major test, when Cloquet-Carlton brought the region’s top team to Two Harbors to take on the Agates. The focal point of attention had to be on Kendra Kelley, the Lumberjacks star forward.
“Star” doesn’t quite capture the level at which Kendra Kelley plays the game. She had scored 18 goals to lead the Lake Superior Conference teams after only seven games, which meant trying to stop her became the Agates obkjective.
“Cloquet beat us 5-1 last year, and Kendra scored three of the goals,” Szendrey said. “But she scored 47 goals last season, which made her the top scorer in either A or AA. Not a lot of teams are going to shut her out.”
The duel between Kelley and the Two Harbors defensive scheme became the highlight of the night on that perfect fall night at Two Harbors.
But wait! Suddenly another angle popped up.
The teams had battled through a scoreless first half, and as time ran down, the Lumberjacks were frustrated by the hustling, pestering Two Harbors defense. Then the ball ended up down in the Cloquet half of the field, and a Two Harbors player, No. 16, gained possession, about 25 yards straight out from the Lumberjacks goal. The player turned, facing the left sideline, but suddenly whirled and cut loose with a left-footed blast, hooking perfectly as it eluded goalkeeper Gracie Meagher and caught the right edge of the goal.
The goal was scored by Sami Szendrey, a skilled midfielder and a senior, and also the coach’s daughter. The goal was on a decisive shot, and might have been a surprise, because most right-handed players don’t shoot instinctively well left-footed. But Sami made no hesitation, and gave the Agates a 1-0 lead at halftime.
In the Agates next game, Saturday against visiting Zimmerman, Sami Szendrey two more goals, and had 13 for the season going into Tuesday’s game at Esko, making her the second highest scorer in the region, behind only Kendra Kelley.
“It’s pretty unusual, but ever since Sami was 11 or 12, when I asked her which foot she preferred to shoot with, she’d say ‘I don’t know.’ She can shoot with either foot and get it away quickly. It’s a great advantage for her.”
The game resumed for the second half, and Cloquet turned up the pressure, breaking through for some solid shots, but the Agates stayed with the game plan. Trouble was, on the rare occasions when Kendra Kelley doesn’t score, Kiana Bender is usually close by.
More than halfway through the second half, Kelley got the ball through the congestion to Bender, who scored her seventh goal of the season to tie the game 1-1. Kelley got sort of loose twice in the following minutes, but on her best chance she shot over the goal.
With 6:23 remaining, Kelley got the ball in front to Bender again, and she deflected into the lower left side of the net. The Lumberjacks held on for a 2-1 victory.
“The girls were pretty disappointed about losing the game,” said Szendrey. “But I told them we had played really well. Our defense stayed disciplined, and we sort of did a tag team to contain Kelley and Bender and keep them out of the 18-yard box for almost all of the 80 minutes.
“When we started the season, my goal was that we had enough speed and skill to keep up with every team we played. And we did that.”
While Szendrey doesn’t mind if his Agates are flying beneath the radar at this point in the season, he also said that the Agates were facing three straight games that could make or break their season. The first was Esko Tuesday, a 1-1 tie that leaves the two teams tied for first place in the “Iron Soccer Conference,” followed by matches against Denfeld and Marshall.
UMD Soccer Home Again; CSS-UWS Renew Rivalry
As far as Twin Ports college sports rivalries go, the men’s soccer games between St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior are pretty tough to beat, as the two schools proved once again last Saturday afternoon in a fierce 1-1 standoff on the Saints field.
The Saints women whipped UWS 5-0 in the game held just prior to the men’s, indicating that the two schools’ women’s competition is better left to volleyball, softball and hockey.
The rivalry was the perfect preliminary for this weekend, which will be among the busiest that UMD will have all year. It starts on Friday, when the Bulldogs volleyball team returns home to face MSU-Moorhead at 6 p.m. for their first game in renovated Romano Gym, and the UMD soccer team returns home to face MSU-Mankato at 7 p.m. at Malosky Stadium.
It gets really crazy on Saturday, starting at 2 p.m., when UMD plays host to Northern State; at 4 p.m., UMD’s women’s hockey team faces the newly-professional Minnesota Whitecaps at 4 p.m. in AMSOIL Arena; and at 6 p.m., the UMD football team faces a potent Bemidji State outfit at Malosky. Not done yet, the UMD soccer team plays Concordia of St. Paul at 1 p.m. at Malosky on Sunday.
Meanwhile, back at the St. Scholastica field last Saturday, the Saints and UWS women played, with junior goalkeeper Roni Rudolph recording the shutout, while Rachel Dixon and Morgan Friday scored twice each for the Saints.
The men took the field next and played as though they could play until midnight and not score. Hustling hard, the Yellowjackets appeared to take a 1-0 lead when senior Leonardo Paredes raced in as the Saints goalkeeper attempted to kick the ball out from the goal. It appeared the ball hit Paredes square on the cheek and the ricochet went right back into the Saints goal. The officials, however, said no goal and that the ball actually hit his hand and bounced in.
Late in the second half, James Bruce scored a goal that counted for UWS, and the 1-0 lead stood until the 79th minute, when Luke Buckton scored the equalizer. UWS had beaten St. Scholastica in an overtime classic in the UMAC tournament final last year.