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Willmar tops SW Christian 1-0 for school's first-ever state soccer berth

Willmar's Landon Peterson, left, goes head-to-head with the Eagles Pieter Van Den Ven in the first half Friday in the Section 2A boys soccer final. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton

WILLMAR -- In an election year, Willmar boys soccer elected to do something special.

"All they need to know is that we're going to state," chirped senior James Neis in the aftermath of Willmar's 1-0 victory over visiting Southwest Minnesota Christian on Friday.

The Section 2A championship trophy is a first for Willmar soccer -- boys or girls. The Cardinals' girls team barely missed the honor less than 24 hours earlier, losing a shootout at Albert Lea.

Bakar Aden's goal in the 13th minute of the second half -- strong-legging his own rebound from 12 feet -- was the match winner at the Kennedy pitch in front of the biggest crowd ever to watch a high school match here.

The Cardinals advance to the Class A quarterfinals. Their opponent and the game site will be determined today in a conference call.

Four teams will be seeded. Willmar head coach Richard Courtney stated that Willmar won't be seeded but put in the draw. That means they will end up playing one of the top four teams in the opening round at a neutral site. The tournament moves to the Metrodome for the semifinals, third-place match and final.

The win was Willmar's fifth win in a row, upping the Cardinals' victory total to 14. They were 9-8 two weeks ago.

"We started getting our game on two or three weeks ago," said junior stopper Josh Wright. "We cracked down on ourselves. This is what we wanted."

The Cardinals knocked off No. 12 Central Minnesota Christian 4-1, No. 4 New Ulm 2-1 and No. 1 Mankato East 1-0. The No. 6 Eagles eliminated No. 3 Worthington 5-0 in the quarterfinals and No. 7 Mankato West 2-1 (shootout) in the semifinals.

Though he didn't get an assist officially, Abshir Ahmed set up the winning goal. The junior attacker dribbled down the right wing and from the baseline crossed the ball to his freshman striker. Aden got off a shot as he fell on his seat. The chance was rejected by goalie Kaiser De Kam but the ball shot back toward the Cardinal attacker.

Before the defense could clear, Aden had raised himself enough for an off-balanced kick, this one getting past De Kam, who hadn't recovered his footing after making the initial save.

Aden celebrated with a slide to the corner of the field. He was fortunate not to draw a yellow card. Willmar's top scorer, Abdinasir Abdi (15 goals, eight assists), watched this game from the bench after drawing a one-game suspension for two yellow cards, one of those for "excessive celebration" after he scored the winning goal in the semifinals against the Scarlets.

Goalie Steve Kluver again credited his defense. He figured he was challenged on only two of the Eagles' nine shots on goal.

Badal Ali again got a lot of the credit for Willmar's suffocating defense in the playoffs. The talented forward suggested to coaches two weeks ago he might be more valuable on defense, which has proved the case.

Willmar had the better of the scoring chances, but the best ones seemed to sail high or wide. The Eagles (12-5), who went to state in 2001, were an excellent team but their coach Leland Vanderaa felt they were a little flat.

"We never got in gear," he said. "We just didn't challenge. I'm not sure why. We've had games like that."

Neis, one of 10 seniors, pointed out that Landon Peterson and Liam Johnston did a good job of interrupting the Eagles' flow by punching the ball away.

The two days of section finals marked the first time a Willmar team had gotten to a section final. Varsity soccer debuted in 2000, also an election year.

Willmar 1, Southwest Minnesota Christian 0

Southwest MC (12-5) 0 0 -- 0

Willmar (14-8) 0 1 -- 1

FIRST HALF - no scoring

SECOND HALF - Wil: Bakar Aden (unassisted) 62:10

Shots on goal - Southwest Minnesota Christian: 4-5-9 ... Willmar: 4-4-8

Goalie saves - Southwest Minnesota Christian: Kaiser De Kam 7 ... Willmar: Steve Kluver 9