Four girls' soccer powers will leave their conference in pursuit of more than one spot at the state tournament.
Lakeville North’s Alexa Trakalo dribbled the ball while pressured by Prior Lake Macy Violett, left, and Jade Weller. Top-ranked The Panthers defeated the10th-ranked Lakers 1-0 in a South Suburban Conference game Oct. 4. Photo by Jeff Wheeler • email@example.com
They beat up each other during the regular season. They split up for section play, only to hopefully face each other again in the Metrodome.
The top four girls' soccer teams in the South Suburban Conference -- No. 1 Lakeville North, No. 5 Eastview, No. 9 Burnsville and No. 10 Prior Lake -- are all ranked in the top 10 of the Class 2A coaches poll. All four state powers have also been ranked No. 1 and No. 2 at some point over the course of the season.
"It's an extremely tough conference, and everybody keeps improving," Burnsville coach John Soderholm said. "You never get a break in the schedule."
They all get somewhat of a relief come section tournament time because the four schools are in three sections. Conference champion Lakeville North (13-1-2) is in Section 1. Burnsville (12-4) and Prior Lake (13-3) are in Section 2 while Eastview (10-3-1) is in Section 3.
"I know we are going to have a tough schedule just because of the teams in our conference, but it's better than playing one that's a piece of cake," Lakeville North coach Bulut Ozturk. "I expect two or three of the teams to make the state tournament."
He should know. Last year the teams sitting right around his squad at the state tournament banquet were Eastview and Burnsville.
"It gives the girls confidence knowing they can play with the best teams in the state," Ozturk said. "It shows the girls exactly where they are, and what they need to do to get better."
Burnsville was last year's runner-up, losing to Wayzata 2-1 in a shootout for the championship. Lakeville North finished fourth and Eastview lost in the quarterfinals in a shootout.
"The top teams in our conference are going to be some of the top teams in the state," Prior Lake coach David Graham said. "That is not going to change."
Lakeville North opened the season rated No. 1, and has 10 players back from last year's state tournament squad.
"They are hungry and determined," Ozturk said.
The Panthers have only yielded four goals on the season, and had 11 consecutive shutouts until a 1-0 loss to Blake.
"That was a great leaning experience," Ozturk said. "It humbled us a bit. It made us refocus."
Burnsville had to do likewise, but it also has had to overcome injuries. The Blaze lost three starters due to torn knee ligaments, including junior forward Alyssa Blahnik.
Blahnik and Lakeville North senior forward Simone Kolander (16 goals and 14 assists), the Star Tribune's Metro Player of the Year last season, are among the state's elite. Blahnik scored 34 goals as a sophomore and is a career 50-goal scorer. She had five goals in last year's state tournament.
"We would like to get back to state, but we need a little luck," Soderholm said. "Everybody needs some luck to make it to the state tournament."