ST. MICHAEL — Even in one of the toughest nights in net all season, Andrew Ziebarth found a way to rise up.
The Willmar boys soccer team erased a two-goal deficit against Princeton with two scores in the final five minutes of regulation to tie the Section 6AA championship at 3-3.
Before the start of overtime, the junior goalkeeper was animated in the huddle, hyping up his teammates. The team was anxious to get back on the field and continue their perfect season while Princeton looked stunned after losing the late lead.
“We were saying in the huddle (that) we want it more than these guys,” Ziebarth said. “We just got to go out and prove it.”
He added, “I knew we could do it if we kept going. I didn’t think for a second that we were out of the game.”
Cardinals head coach Jeff Winter was caught off-guard by the mild-mannered goalie taking charge in the huddle.
“They were all trying to get each other fired up,” Winter said. “I was trying to get them to remain composed.”
Ziebarth speaking up is just part of the progress he’s made as a leader. Of Willmar’s four captains, Ziebarth is the lone junior in the group.
“He’s kind of lived in (the seniors’) shadows, but he did come out tonight and rose to the occasion,” Winter said of Ziebarth. “One of his strengths is rising in big games.”
Coming into the section championship, Ziebarth and the Willmar defense held opponents to 0.8 goals per game while recording nine shutouts.
“We scored 94 goals this year but I fully believe defense wins championships,” Winter said. “The team defense in the back, they’re covering for each other. They just know when one guy goes for the ball, the other guy gets behind him and cleans up.”
As the last line of defense, Ziebarth has credited the camaraderie on the back end of the Cardinals’ formation.
“Everyone trusts each other,” Ziebarth said. “Everyone’s got each others’ backs and if one of us messes up, the other guys are coming back for (the ball). We all work together; no one gets too upset if they mess up.”
The Cardinals and Tigers played a scoreless first half. But with a pair of goals by Cooper Nowak and a heads-up score from Beck Wogen, Princeton had Willmar on the ropes.
“Number 11 (Nowak) is one of the best players I’ve ever played against,” said Ziebarth, who had four saves in the victory. “He was amazing; we couldn’t contain him.”
On the opening kickoff of overtime, the Tigers tried to boot the ball ahead to Nowak for one more offensive rush. Instead, the Cardinals’ defense corralled the ball and moved it into their offensive zone. On a scoring chance, Willmar drew a foul in the box and was awarded a penalty kick. Anthony Reyes Jimenez got the ball past Princeton goalie Ben Hallberg for the section-clinching goal.
“That last five minutes was crazy,” Winter said after the 4-3 victory.. “Twenty minutes ago, I thought our season was over.”
On one of his toughest nights of the season, ZIebarth found a way to step up for his team.
“He never gave up,” Winter said.
And now, the Cardinals are state bound for the third time in school history and the first time since 2016.
“I love all these guys; there’s nobody else I’d want to do this with,” Ziebarth said.
“We haven’t lost this year and we weren’t going to lose tonight.”