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Shootout shots fall short for Esko

The one thing Esko head coach Sharon Lahti didn't want was a state soccer game decided by penalty kicks. But that's what she got at the Class A quarterfinal game against St. Paul Academy on Oct. 26. The game ended in heartbreak with Esko losing, 2-1, at Irondale High School in New Brighton.

"They're the hardest way to have a game end, and it happened to both the CEC boys and us," she said. "The kids gave it their all, but it wasn't in the cards for any of the northern teams."

Like the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys team the night before, Esko tied its opponent 1-1 and played through two sudden-death 10-minute overtime periods without either team scoring.

Then it was shootout time. Each team starts with five penalty kicks, and the one with the most points wins the shootout and the game.

Lahti explained that regular season games no longer go into overtime, but her team practices penalty kicks a lot, just for the postseason. Every shot was on target, but the St. Paul Academy goalie saved one, a difficult task in the one-on-one scenario.

"Their goalkeeper picked the right way to go and saved that one," Lahti said.

Technically, the Spartans won the game-ending procedure 5-3, although Esko didn't get to take its final shot because they couldn't catch up.

Esko led almost the entire first half, after sophomore midfielder Britta Koski gave Esko a quick start with a goal in the third minute and the score remained 1-0 going into halftime.

Then Spartans sophomore Clare Ryan Bradley scored in the 45th minute to make it 1-1.

It was the second consecutive trip to the state tournament for Esko. The team found itself in a strangely similar situation to last year: ranked fifth by the eight other coaches, playing a No. 4 seed that goes on to play in (or win) the Class A championship. After upsetting the No. 1 seed Providence Academy - one of several private schools in the Class A state tournament - St. Paul Academy will face St. Charles in the championship at U.S. Bank Stadium Saturday, Nov. 3.

Lahti said Esko's return to state was an objective, but definitely not assumed.

"We knew midseason who we had to beat to get there," she said. "They had to work for it."

The team was led all season by its captains: Gwen Lilly, Abrianna Madill and Jordyn Randa, the only seniors on the team.

"They were very important on and off the field," Lahti said.

All three plan to continue playing collegiately. Next year, Lilly will play Division II at University of Minnesota Duluth, Madill will play DII at Jamestown (North Dakota), and Randa plans to play DIII, but hasn't selected a school yet.

Lahti praised Esko goalkeeper Hannah Roemer, a sophomore, and second goalkeeper, eighth- grader Emma Padgett, for doing a good job in the net this season.

"Hannah did very well," Lahti said of Roemer's state performance.

A strong defense meant both didn't get a lot of game-time challenges, but Lahti said she builds her teams around the defense, making that the foundation.

Does she feel that next year's team will be just as good?

"Oh my gosh, absolutely," Lahti said. "We've got talent at all grade levels right now. And I've got girls already moving on to basketball and hockey, but they're also playing soccer somewhere in the spring and summer. It's that kind of offseason stuff that makes the difference, because the high school season is so short.

"We've got a bright future ahead of us."

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