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Willmar girls bid for state berth today

WILLMAR -- The Willmar girls become the first Cardinal team in the nine-year history of varsity soccer to play in a section final when they play at Albert Lea at 7 p.m. today.

The boys team will follow in the same pursuit less than 24 hours later when they host Southwest Minnesota Christian at 3 p.m. Friday for the 2A boys title.

Both teams won 1-0 in Mankato Tuesday. The boys nipped East and the girls tipped West two hours later in overtime.

Goalie Chelsey Wierschem, a three-year starter, made 14 saves, including a Scarlet penalty kick late in regulation.

"That was our biggest win and most exciting, too," said the senior, who switched from volleyball after her freshman year. She earned team MVP honors as a sophomore on 1-15-1 team.

The Cardinals won five matches last fall, tying the 2002 team for most wins. This fall's current 10-8-2 mark assures the team its first winning record.

Senior Hannah Murphy cleared out traffic in front of Wierschem in the section semifinal. The team's most-veteran player was Offensive MVP as an eighth-grader.

"It's shocking," she said of being one win removed from the state tournament. "No one had that much respect for us, but we turned that into our favor. Our conference record (4-8-1) wasn't that great, but we play those St. Cloud schools and they've been playing soccer since they were little. A lot of our girls came out late, sometimes not until senior high."

The Albert Lea Tigers (14-4-2) are the defending section champions. They reached today's match by beating No. 9 Worthington 5-0 and Big Nine rival No. 4 Mankato East 2-0.

Willmar coach Jeff Winter said from what he's learned, "It should be a pretty even match up skill-wise. It might come down to which team has more left in the tank near the end."