Goalie Brandon Gonzalez is a big reason Waconia is undefeated this year. The Wildcats face St. Paul Academy at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the state quarterfinals. Photo by Elizabeth Flores • email@example.com
Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune
Mission possible for Waconia soccer
- Article by: JIM PAULSEN
- Star Tribune
- October 23, 2012 - 4:25 PM
The Waconia boys' soccer teams' undefeated season and state tournament hopes were slipping away in the Section 6, 1A finals.
Breck had battled the top-seeded Wildcats to a scoreless tie. And now the second overtime period was drawing to a close with the dreaded thought of a game decided on penalty kicks looming in Waconia coach Tyrel Seim's mind.
"We had kept the ball for almost the whole game," Seim said. "The last thing I wanted was a shootout. Breck had some very skilled players."
Then one incredible kick made all the worry melt away.
A foul was called on Breck with 30 seconds left in the second overtime.
Seim sent forward Mitchell Zebell to take the ensuing free kick, which was so far wide of the net it resembled a corner kick.
Zebell nailed a once-in-a-lifetime shot, curling the ball high, past the Breck goalkeepers fingertips and into the far corner of the net with just 17 seconds left.
Game to Waconia, 1-0.
On to the state tournament for the first time in team history.
With one beautiful boot, Zebell had rescued the Wildcats and set off an incredible frenzy of emotion that just barely settled.
"It was an impossible kick," Seim said. "We had a lot of people at the game who had never been to a soccer game before and they came away saying how cool it was.
Senior defender Dan Butz, a captain and four-year varsity veteran, has survived Waconia's growing pains and knew that his team had what it took to be a state tournament contender. The Wildcats tend to listen when the confident Butz, a leader in the backfield, speaks.
But even he admitted that doubts had started to creep in as the game progressed.
"We did not want it to go to [penalty kicks]," Butz said. "All of us were getting real nervous. Even our goalie, Brandon Gonzales, who is one of the best in the state, said he might throw up if it went to PKs."
When Zebell's kick went in, Butz admitted he experienced a wave of emotion like he had never felt before.
"It was unbelievable. It gave me chills," he said. "After 99 minutes and 43 seconds, to have a shot like that send us to the state tournament? Indescribable."
It's no surprise that the talk around school the day after the victory was primarily soccer.
The players revelled in it, experiencing a level of support and adulation usually reserved for football and basketball players.
"It's a great feeling to be able to walk around the school and hear freshmen and sophomores talk about how good the game was and how they're planning on going to the next game," Butz said. "I remember when I was a freshman. Soccer was pretty much ignored."
Golden goal aside, there is still the matter of the Class 1A state tournament. Unseeded Waconia will play top-seeded St. Paul Academy at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Hopkins.
Seim is confident his experienced team will have come down from its incredible high in time to play up to their potential.
After all, making it to the state tournament was the goal all along.
"Right away, after the game I said to the team 'Are we done? Is this it?' " Seim said. "We've been setting goals all season, but we don't take things too far ahead. So now we have new goals, like winning one game so we can play in the [Metrodome]."
Butz echoed Seim's comments, indicating that he expects the team's experience to carry it through.
"We have a lot of guys who have played a long time," Butz asserted. "Some guys have played 60-plus varsity games. We're used to playing in big games."
The Wildcats (18-0-1) intend on enjoying the ride, however. It would be impossible to do otherwise.
"This is the most fun I've ever had playing any sport," Butz said. "To get 18 wins and make a state tournament? Nothing comes close."
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