Mahtomedi girls' soccer coach Dave Wald called Orono goalkeeper Clare Gagne a game-changer, among the best Minnesota-produced players at her position.
So as his team trailed by a goal with about 20 minutes left in the Class 1A state tournament championship game Thursday, Wald began preparing a somber postgame address.
Winning a third consecutive title seemed unlikely, especially against an Orono team desperate to avenge championship game losses to the Zephyrs the past two seasons.
Then senior forward Anna Wagner, who scored the game's first goal, matched the Spartans' urgency. She made tough runs toward Gagne and their resulting collisions changed the game.
Wagner drew two second-half penalty shots and her teammates scored both times, clinching a 3-2 victory at U.S. Bank Stadium. The three-peat for Mahtomedi (16-2-2) matched the feat by the Zephyrs' squads from 2004-06.
"This is us making our mark right here," senior midfielder Audrey Sexson said.
Sexson tied the score 2-2 on her team's first penalty kick, a foul questioned by players and coaches of Orono (15-4-3).
"It definitely looked like Clare had the ball first and then the girl tripped," Spartans coach Erin Murray said.
No one disputed the second foul called on Gagne, who was forced to disrupt Wagner, again inside the 18-yard box. But when the last defender back, in this case Gagne, fouls to deny a goal-scoring opportunity, officials issue a red card and ejection.
"We should have never put Clare in a situation where she's one-on-one with an offensive player, and she has to make that decision, 'Do I go for the ball or step back?' " Murray said. "We know Clare. She's not going to try to hurt anybody, but she's going to go for the ball. I think she did the right thing."
Mahtomedi senior forward Lauren Heinsch readied for the penalty shot.
"Me and Audrey both said a prayer for each other," Heinsch said. "You just have to tell yourself, 'It's going in.' You can't go up to the line doubting yourself."