The team has shown it endures difficulty with the best.
Blaine’s Ashley Pafko took a shot on goal in the second half on Blaine's match against Andover on Oct. 16. She headed in the winning goal later in the game. The Bengals won 4-2. Photo by Jeff Wheeler • firstname.lastname@example.org
A much faster regroup was required as the Bengals got behind 2-0 just four minutes into last week's Class 2A, Section 7 championship game at Andover.
Determination replaced doubt as players opted to act rather than analyze. What followed were four consecutive goals, a 4-2 victory and a second consecutive trip to the Class 2A state tournament.
Blaine opens tournament play against No. 3 seed and fellow Northwest Suburban Conference team Centennial at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at St. Cloud State University.
"When you go down 2-0 in the section final, what, four minutes into the game -- who expects to come back and win that?" Blaine coach Scott Zachmann said.
"I wouldn't think anybody could, but we found a way to do it," senior midfielder Kirsten Olsen said.
Experience and improved team speed make these Bengals (14-4-1) superior to the 2011 team, Zachmann said. Both elements helped them through two challenging section playoff games.
Tied 1-1 after regulation and overtime in the Section 7 semifinals against St. Francis, the Bengals were forced to endure penalty kicks. a format that tends to favor the shooter. Undaunted, goaltender Alex Barber-Verdek stopped every Saints shot she faced.
The experience prepared her for a key moment against Andover. Goals from Sydney Seim and Britney Monteon tied the score 2-2 in the second half, but a Blaine foul gave Andover's dangerous Taylor Hedin a penalty kick opportunity.
Barber-Verdek made the initial save, deflecting the ball skyward and off the crossbar. And she came up big a second time as the ball bounced out to Hedin for a rebound try.
"We don't win the game if she doesn't make that save," Zachmann said. "That's one of the best individual performances at a game-changing moment I've ever seen in my 16 or 17 years of coaching."
Blaine maintained the momentum with a goal in the 65th minute. Karah Jolly's indirect free kick hit a wall of Andover defenders. But the ball bounced back to her and she sent a second shot toward the Huskies' goal. Ashley Pafko got in position for the ball to skip off her forehead and into the net.
Pafko, who will play for the Gophers next fall, spent most of the season on defense but has moved up of late to add scoring punch. She's scored four of her nine goals in the past four games, giving the Bengals a complement to Monteon.
Only a sophomore, Monteon has emerged as one of the most potent players in the class of 2015. She scored 23 regular-season goals and added another five in the playoffs. The Bengals are 13-0 in games when she scores and 1-4-1 went she does not.
Her first goal against Andover came on a breakaway and tied the score 2-2 early in the second half. Olsen said the goal "turned the whole game around. We were kind of sinking down and not sure if we could do it, but then she put that goal in."
Monteon's second goal clinched the outcome with less than a second remaining. Two years ago Blaine went 3-12-3. Zachmann was promoted to head coach for the 2011 season and instilled new energy in the program. The result: two consecutive trips to the state tournament.
"I like our work ethic and I'm glad that we're not putting our heads down if we're losing," Pafko said. "We really want to win the game and we go after it."
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574