WILLMAR — The Willmar Cardinals girls soccer team started their Section 6AA postseason with a 4-3 victory in a rematch against Big Lake at Hodapp Field.
The win also extends Willmar’s win streak to four.
Seniors Ellary Lange and Sam Christoffer both recorded two goals and an assist in the win.
“Over the past few games we’ve really connected well and I think it was just a good overall team effort,” Lange said. “Everyone played really well.”
The Cardinals and the Hornets previously battled to a 2-2 overtime tie on Sept. 11 at Hodapp Field with neither team scoring in the first half.
Lange discussed the adjustments made heading into Wednesday’s match.
“We really just worked on our passing at mid-field … I think our traps and 50/50s got a lot better throughout practices,” she said. “Overall, I think our intensity was a lot better.”
In other first-round Section 6AA games Wednesday, No. 1 St. Francis beat No. 8 Becker 4-0, No. 7 Hutchinson/Glencoe-Silver Lake defeated No. 2 Monticello 2-1 and No. 3 Zimmerman knocked off No. 6 Princeton, 5-0.
No. 4 Willmar (11-4-2) plays at 5 p.m. Tuesday at No. 1 St. Francis (16-0). Hutchinson/GSL (6-9-1) plays at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Zimmerman (11-5).
The section final is Oct. 21 at a neutral site. The section champion advances to the state tournament.
With a win meaning advancing and losing meaning the end of the season, stakes were high.
“We’ve talked all week about how everything is a little more important now,” Willmar coach Amanda Sellner said. “Every decision you make, every play you make, every touch that you have has a little bit higher stakes, recognizing the importance of every touch of the ball and being purposeful and intense with every motion and everything you do.”
Wednesday’s weather conditions brought difficulty. Players battled gusts of strong winds which passing difficult.
“The conditions out here made it really tough today and that changes the game of soccer a lot,” Sellner said.
Christoffer was first to find the back of the net on an assist by Lange in the 11th minute before
Big Lake answered in the 25th minute with a goal by sophomore Rylie Sternquist.
Sternquist finished the match with two goals.
Three minutes later, Christoffer connected with Lange, who poked in a goal to take a 2-1 lead at halftime.
“It was just an amazing pass from Sam; I was able to tap it in,” Lange said. “It was all her work; she did amazing.”
Sternquest scored her second goal in the 42nd minute to tie the match at 2-2.
In the 64th minute, Lange belted a corner kick from the right side and, with the help of the wind, connected with nothing but the back of the net in the top left corner to take a 4-3 lead.
Sellner described the goal as being one of the best she had ever seen.
Lange stayed humble.
“That second goal was just a fluke,” she said with a chuckle. “It was the wind.”
After re-taking the lead, Willmar seemed to play with a boost of energy.
Christoffer capitalized on it with a goal in the 68th minute to give Willmar a 4-2 lead, the largest lead of the match.
Big Lake scored on a free kick in the 75th minute, but did not score again.
Sellner believes the Cardinals are in good shape heading into the semifinals.
“I think a victory in the playoffs always builds confidence within a team and playing either the No. 1 or No. 8 seed you’re going to need a strong head on your shoulders going into a game like that,” she said.