Detroit Lakes head girls soccer coach Ben Aastuen knew what his team was getting into when they made the trip to Alexandria on Saturday. Yet he still walked away impressed with the Lakers’ performance in a season-ending 2-0 loss.

The fifth-seed, Detroit Lakes (8-9-1), had its chances to break through against the top-seeded Cardinals (14-2-1) in the semifinal round of the Section 8AA tournament but fell in a hard-fought 2-0 game.

“They’re a very strong team,” Aastuen said of Alexandria. “Despite their speed, we had so many offensive opportunities. I’m so proud our girls were not daunted by it. When you’re met with a challenge like that, sometimes, teams get nervous or scared. Our team was ready to go and fight for it today.”

The Lakers threatened with the first high-danger scoring chance of the afternoon off the foot of junior Abby Larson. Her shot sailed just past the far post to the right of Alexandria goalkeeper Sophia Vinje.

The Cardinals finally broke through in the 27th minute when sophomore Sophia Korynta snuck one by the right arm of Lakers’ sophomore Elle Bettcher. Elle Heydt got the ball to Korynta in front of the goal to set up the tie-breaking strike.

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Maren Skadsem kicks the ball upfield early in the second half during Alexandria's 2-0 win over Detroit Lakes on Oc.t 16, 2021 at Alexandria Area High School. (Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune)
Maren Skadsem kicks the ball upfield early in the second half during Alexandria's 2-0 win over Detroit Lakes on Oc.t 16, 2021 at Alexandria Area High School. (Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

“We talked about going out there and trying to get a goal early,” Alexandria head coach Tom Roos said. “We got our first goal a little later than we hoped, but we are still the top team in this section. We beat every team in this section, and being on the scoreboard reaffirms that. Once we knocked in that first goal, I think we started believing in ourselves a little bit more.”

Korynta was the most prominent pest for the Detroit Lakes defensive unit to slow down. She found ways to get the ball to the goal several times but could only beat Bettcher once.

“This was her strongest game of the year,” Roos said of Korynta. “It’s been a real grinding schedule for those attackers, but I think she’s picking it up. They have a very fast center defender that made things tough down the middle. There were some nice combinations between (Ella Westlund) and Sophia. The high pressure on their defenders allowed us to keep it in their defensive end.”

After the Cardinals broke the ice, they found their offensive rhythm. However, Bettcher was up to the task. She made several sprawling saves, much like the ones she made to help Detroit Lakes beat St. Cloud Tech in the quarterfinal round.

Ella Westlund leaps to kick the ball away from two Lakers in the second half of Alexandria's 2-0 win over Detroit Lakes on Oc.t 16, 2021 at Alexandria Area High School. (Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune)
Ella Westlund leaps to kick the ball away from two Lakers in the second half of Alexandria's 2-0 win over Detroit Lakes on Oc.t 16, 2021 at Alexandria Area High School. (Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

“She has this thing that switches on in her brain that says it’s game time, and it’s really fun to see,” Aastuen said. “Sometimes in practice, it’s not turned on, and then I tell her to turn it on, and then she’s diving for every ball. It’s like this switch that she flips that gets her locked in. When she’s locked in, there’s not a ball that she can’t get to. She’s an amazing player.”

“We wanted to continue to put pressure on her,” Roos said of Bettcher. “She did make some great saves. It wasn’t like there was one weakness of hers that we could focus on. We just had to continue to keep pressure on her. She made a ton of saves, but eventually, one is going to get through. She was very strong.”

Alexandria kept the pressure on offensively, which set up numerous set-piece chances late in the game. The Lakers did a good job of holding their positions to be able to stay within striking distance.

“We talked about transitions, and honestly, it’s just quickness,” Aastuen said. “When those stoppages happen, and they get those free kicks, it’s about how we use our quickness to break up those plays. We also have to have good body positioning so that when the ball does deflect off of us, it goes where we want it to go.”

Annie Paulson (left) and Greta Oldenkamp chase after a loose ball in the second half of Alexandria's 2-0 win over Detroit Lakes on Oct. 16, 2021 at Alexandria Area High School. (Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune)
Annie Paulson (left) and Greta Oldenkamp chase after a loose ball in the second half of Alexandria's 2-0 win over Detroit Lakes on Oct. 16, 2021 at Alexandria Area High School. (Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

With under 30 minutes left in regulation, Roos subbed in freshman Allie Habaala. Three minutes later, she scored on a gritty individual effort to get by two Laker defenders on her way to the front of the goal.

“Allie is a high-impact player,” Roos said. “She’s fast and powerful. When she’s out there, I think people don’t think much is going to happen, and then she goes. It’s deceiving. She’s a very exciting player.”

The Lakers got a chance to see how far they've come on Saturday, even in a 2-0 season-ending loss. On Aug. 28, Alexandria shut out Detroit Lakes 4-0. But Aastuen was proud to see the ways his team improved to play a more competitive game against the best 8AA has to offer.

Baylee Branden (right) goes up to knock down a corner kick in the second half of Alexandria's 2-0 8AA semifinal win over Detroit Lakes on Oct. 16, 2021. (Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune)
Baylee Branden (right) goes up to knock down a corner kick in the second half of Alexandria's 2-0 8AA semifinal win over Detroit Lakes on Oct. 16, 2021. (Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

"Their heart and their work ethic have been so amazing this year," Aastuen said. "I have all of the faith in the world that if we had more time to work and continue to develop that we would win this game, hands down. Even looking at the score, 2-0 doesn't show the offensive opportunities that we had. It doesn't show how well our girls played. I'm so proud of them, and I can't say enough good things about them."