The Orono girls’ soccer team had almost an entirely new starting lineup last season, after graduating 11 seniors in 2015.
That experience appears to be paying off this season.
Orono is unbeaten this year at 18-0-3 and is just two victories from its third Class 1A state title. The team’s captains and coach Erin Murray attribute that success in part to their development in 2016, when they had to replace 10 senior starters, including several all-state players.
“It was a very strong senior class,” Murray said. “It just took us a year to rebuild from having such a strong group of seniors the year before.”
Orono’s 2015 team included 11 seniors who had played together since second grade. They led the Spartans to a state title in 2014 and a runner-up finish in 2015.
Their graduation left Orono in need of essentially a new starting lineup. Murray turned to her remaining varsity players but also added several freshmen. Orono won 11 consecutive games to close the 2016 regular season, finishing 12-4 despite starting the year 1-3. It won its first two Section 6 playoff games before losing 2-0 to Waconia in the semifinals.
The Spartans began this year with two ties in their first six games. They’ve won 14 of 15 since, posting 11 shutouts and allowing just four goals over that stretch. The team finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in Class 1A by the Minnesota High School Soccer Coaches Association.
The Spartans have allowed just six goals in 21 games, thanks in part to back-line players Ally Swenson, Emma Kosek and Maddie Loder. Second-year goalie Clare Gagne, a sophomore, has 72 saves for a save percentage of 92.3.
“This year, she’s way more vocal in just directing our back line and being more confident in that position,” Murray said.
The team has benefitted from balanced scoring, with six players tallying at least seven goals. That forces opponents to guard everyone, not just a few players, Orono’s captains said.
“There’s not one specific player that the other team tries to man-mark,” senior co-captain Leah Goehring said. “There’s all of us in the middle and up top that can score.”
Goehring is the lone starter remaining from that 2015 team. Her older sister, Carly, was also a starter on that squad and has since gone on to play for Division-I Butler. Leah will join Carly there next year.
Leah called last season a “development year” for Orono. Co-captain Sarah Johnston added that many of last year’s freshmen played on the same club team and that it took time for everyone to learn to play together.
“They really got to learn the speed of play,” co-captain Anna Hughes said of last year’s freshmen. “This year, they’re coming and just really lighting it up.”
Those freshmen, now sophomores, have been key all season. Midfielder Anna Tesar is tied with Johnston for the team high in goals with 11. Midfielder Sadie Koltes leads in assists with 10.
After defeating Rochester Lourdes 2-0 in the Class 1A quarterfinals last week, Orono faces fifth-seeded Visitation in the semifinals at 4 p.m. Monday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“We’re going to match up pretty well against them,” Murray said. “It’s going to be a good game.”