Redemption never has been a word associated with a girls’ soccer team coached by Bulut Ozturk. That is, until this year, when it was the driving force for Class 2A two-time state champion Eagan.
“Last year was heartbreaking,” Eagan senior captain Kayla Vrieze said. “We wanted revenge.”
The No. 9-ranked Wildcats (14-2-2) won back-to-back state championships under Ozturk in 2014 and 2015. Players thought they were on the verge of a three-peat a year ago, but Rosemount upset the Wildcats 2-1 in the Section 3 final.
“We were very disappointed last year because we knew we had a chance to win another state championship,” Vrieze said.
Vrieze, Eagan’s leading scorer with 21 goals and 12 assists, had a big smile on her face as she walked off Burnsville’s turf field Tuesday night. She wasn’t alone. The distraught look that the entire team had when it left the same location last year had been removed.
“It was just a two-year process for us,” said Vrieze after the Wildcats avenged last year’s setback with a 2-1 victory over the Irish, again in the Section 3 final. Junior Grace Sjoberg scored the game-winner when her left-footed shot from 15 yards out caught the inside of the far post and caromed into the net with 37.1 seconds left.
“Our goal never changes, win a state championship,” Vrieze said.
Eagan junior goalkeeper Megan Plaschko, who has verbally committed to the Gophers, went from awestruck to “pure joy and happiness” in a year’s time. Rosemount scored two second-half goals to overcome a 1-0 deficit in 2016.
“It was weird. Hard. Different,” Plaschko said, looking back to last season. “I thought we would be playing in the state tournament again.”
Success was all Plaschko had experienced with the Wildcats. She started in goal when Eagan defeated Eden Prairie 1-0 in a shootout for the state championship in 2015. Plaschko made two saves in the shootout, including a sprawling stop on Eden Prairie’s Maddie Milbrath with the title on the line.
“I like to keep things simple, keep the ball out of the net,” Plaschko said. “When things get complicated it freaks me out.”
Besides Plaschko and Vrieze, seven other starters returned from that disappointed group of a year ago. Plaschko also takes penalty kicks for the team and has three goals on the season, including the first tally in the section championship this year.
“We now work better together, and it shows,” said Eagan senior captain Molly Busch, the Wildcats’ second-leading scorer with 12 goals and seven assists.
The fast and aggressive Wildcats are more experienced, but still are young. They have only five seniors on their roster.
“Losing last year was a learning experience for us,” Plaschko said. “It gave us more appreciation on how hard it is to make it to the state tournament. We had to start working harder.”
Just before section play, the Wildcats went through a tough three-game stretch. They fell to Prior Lake 2-1 and tied Woodbury 1-1 and Lakeville North 0-0, all in overtime.
“We hit a rough patch,” Plaschko said. “We were determined not to let it go on.”
After the Woodbury tie, the group remained at the field and went through a 2½-hour team-bonding session.
“We weren’t going to go home, go to sleep and forget about it,” Plaschko said. “The determination of this team is unprecedented.”
In its next five games, including three in the section tournament, Eagan has outscored its opponents 20-4.
“We’ve learned from our mistakes, and have been working harder in practice,” Busch said.
The Wildcats are 69-7-5 since Ozturk took over the program three years ago. He guided Lakeville North to three consecutive state tournament appearances before leaving that program.
“Ever since Turk came to our program we’ve had a lot of success,” Busch said. “We’ve built a dynasty.”
Ozturk was caught off-guard by last year’s upset just as much as anybody else.
“I felt bad for the girls,” Ozturk said. “They were the only team of mine not to make it to the state tournament.
“It was very emotional. Sad. It was shocking.”
Vrieze was quick to attribute the program’s recent success to its mentor.
“We might not have won one championship if he wasn’t coaching us,” Vrieze said. “He’s the heart of this team.”