For the Magic girls soccer team, the section final setup was eerily similar to last year. Unfortunately, so was the result.
The Magic were again playing at a neutral field on artificial turf in chilly weather. They were playing against Totino Grace. They were coming off a shootout win over Park Center in the semifinals. And again, they just couldn’t find the back of the net as they fell to one of the state’s best teams, 2-0.
Coach Brent Wuollet knew it would take a nearly flawless game if the Magic were going to knock off the Eagles, and Thursday they didn’t get that. At least not in the first half.
“We got outplayed in the first half,” said Wuollet. “We didn’t have much of anything going. We were lucky to be down just one goal.”
That goal came just under ten minutes into the first half. Up until that point, Monticello had done a nice job of controlling the ball, but had yet to open up any real opportunities. Then, the Eagles struck on a counterattack. The initial push was held back. But as the ball bounced around, it found the foot of Eagles junior Grace Steinhauser. She knew what to do with it. Her kick from the left side of the box went right, before bending back to the left as it crashed into the net just inside the right post. 1-0, Eagles.
For the remainder of the half, Kallie Gau and the defense held the Eagles at bay, but little could be generated in the other direction.
Wuollet said he didn’t want to make excuses for his team, but that it was hard to ignore the emotional and physical toll that the shootout win Tuesday took on the Magic.
“We tried to prepare for that, and prevent it from happening,” said Wuollet. “But I think that was a big factor.”
Finally, halftime came. And after a half during which Wuollet and Gau each had to encourage the team to pick up the energy and the pace multiple times, Wuollet kept his message simple.
“You only have forty minutes left,” he told his team. “Leave it all on the field.”
From the opening kick of the second half, a change was evident. Monticello controlled the ball in their offensive end. Cody Romer and Lealah Abraham were working smoothly together. Mackenzie Johnson and other midfielders were spirited in their efforts to keep the ball on the offensive side of the field. And Gau made a couple of big saves to stop the few Eagles counterattacks that her sister Danielle hadn’t already run down.
Through the increased tempo and improved attacking, Monticello generated numerous shots including a few really good looks. Twice they were on the doorstep, only to get turned away by Totino’s goalie.
“I thought we were asserting our will on them for the first 15-20 minutes [of the second half],” said Wuollet. “We just couldn’t get a goal.”
Midway through the half, momentum made a noticeable shift. Abraham, one of the Magic’s fastest players and top threats, went down to the turf with an injury. The game stopped, momentum slowed. When Abraham left the field, the clock resumed. So did the momentum, just in the opposite direction. Seemingly within seconds, the Eagles did what the Magic couldn’t do. They took advantage of their opportunities. With 25 minutes left in the game, Steinhauser again found the ball at her feet after a Magic turnover in their own end.
This time from the right side she let loose on a kick across the goal. Like the first one, the placement was near-perfect. It ricocheted off the top of the left post and into the net. 2-0.
There were twenty-five minutes left, and Monticello did muster a couple of chances. But trailing by two goals, the game suddenly felt out of reach for the offensively challenged Magic.
“That really took the wind out of our sails,” said Wuollet.
Add in the frustration that the Magic were feeling from not capitalizing on their opportunities, and this one was all but over. Twenty minutes later, it was official. The Magic had been done in by a couple of all too familiar opponents.
The Eagles had ended Monticello’s season for the third year in a row, including the second straight time in the section finals.
And a lack of scoring had hurt the Magic for the umpteenth time this season.
“That’s the one thing we’ve lacked all season long,” said Wuollet. “That go-to person that can put the ball in the back of the net.”
Looking back, it will be tough for the Magic to stay disappointed over their final results. They earned the shot at Park Center that they spent the last three weeks dreaming of, and they took it. That win will long be remembered as one of the best wins in program history. And in the title game they went toe-to-toe with one of the state’s best teams and at the very least proved they belonged on the field with them.
But for Wuollet, there was one lingering disappointment.
“It hurts when you know you were capable of playing better,” he said.
The Magic finished the season with a 10-7-3 record and their second section final appearance in program history.