“Did that really just happen?”
Centennial girls’ soccer coach Ginger Flohaug asked herself that question in disbelief after her second-ranked and previously undefeated team suffered a 1-0 upset loss in a wild shootout against Mounds View in Tuesday’s Class 2A, Section 5 championship game.
Scoreless through regulation and two overtimes, the teams went to penalty kicks. And it took thirty-two (yes, 32) attempts to produce a winner, leaving anyone who saw the game sharing Flohaug’s sentiments.
Penalty kicks are designed to be a best-of five but each team only netted three goals. Centennial got the last attempt and Mounds View coach Sharon Swallen anticipated the worst.
“In that situation, you usually don’t come out with a win,” Swallen said.
But Tuesday’s game was anything but conventional.
From there, it was one-and-done. Mounds View shot first, giving Centennial an opportunity to tie (thereby extending the shootout) or win.
What followed was great, gut wrenching theater. Six players on each team attempted two kicks. Players on each team begged their coaches not to call on them. Each starting goaltender made diving saves and also took a turn as shooters. A Mounds View player hit the crossbar. A Centennial player hit the post. Three players missed the net entirely.
Centennial missed chances to win with its 10th, 12th, 14th and 20th attempts. Attempt No. 20 was the closet of all. But starting goaltender Angie Toepper, who practices taking penalty kicks in practice, hit the pipe.
Then a different kind of pressure shifted to Centennial: survival. Toepper’s miss was followed by a string of 11 consecutive goals. Each time Mounds View scored, the Cougars had to answer.
Mounds View’s Alex Ronchak scored the final goal of that stretch. She scored twice in the shootout but needed prodding to attempt her second shot.
“She said, ‘I can’t do this again,’” Swallen said. “We told her, ‘We need you. We believe in you.’”
Ronchak scored, forcing Centennial to answer on attempt No. 32.
“Each time we scored we said, ‘That’s the one. Now Natalie [Stoltz] is going to make the save,’” said Swallen, who coached Mounds View to a shootout victory in the 2001 section semifinals against Irondale that saw a total of 14 players attempt penalty kicks.
Stoltz, playing in her first shootout at any level of soccer, dived to her left and punched away a shot from Centennial senior co-captain Megan Helberg to secure a victory for the ages.
“This has to go down as one of our best section final victories,” Swallen said. “When we talk about this game in the future, we’ll be able to smile.”
Not so for Centennial. The Cougars created more quality scoring chances during the game but Swallen’s pack-it-in game plan kept them off the scoreboard.
“I think a lot of people saw that the better team didn’t win,” Flohaug said. “I give credit to Mounds View for playing defense and hoping we didn’t score.”
Flohaug told her kids to be proud and implored them to come to school on Wednesday.
“It’s hard but not coming to school means you’re embarrassed and the girls have nothing to be embarrassed about,” Flohaug said. “We were the only Class 2A team to have an unbeaten, untied regular-season record. They should be proud of that.”