October 25, 2013
Duluth News Tribune
Duluth Denfeld girls shut down at state soccer tourney
By Louie St. George III
ST. LOUIS PARK — Benilde-St. Margaret’s entered Thursday’s Class A high school girls soccer state tournament quarterfinal with lofty credentials.
But the Red Knights were fortunate to leave with a victory.
Duluth Denfeld threw everything it had at the defending state champs on a chilly night at St. Louis Park High School, but the Hunters couldn’t solve an air-tight defense that has allowed just 10 goals all season. The result was a season-ending 1-0 defeat in a game that was far tighter than just about anybody anticipated.
“I don’t think they expected a battle this tough,” said Denfeld coach Ron Weber.
Benilde-St. Margaret’s, renowned for its explosive offense that entered the night averaging 5.47 goals per game, and one that boasts Ms. Soccer Kelly Pannek, found little room to operate against the Hunters. Denfeld’s strategy was clear from the outset: keep an eye on Pannek and pack the defensive zone with maroon shirts.
It nearly paid off.
Goalkeeper Megan Lazzaro — one of 10 Denfeld seniors — parlayed her risk-taking approach into 11 clutch saves, many of the acrobatic variety. Lazzaro repeatedly ventured from the goal to cut down scoring chances.
“We kept trying to figure out ways where we could create opportunities, and the goalkeeper just played a fantastic game,” Red Knights coach Scott Helling-Christy said. “She was really keeping them in the game, because we came at them with everything we had and created lots of chances. She came up to the challenge.”
“She had an absolutely awesome game,” the coach said of his keeper, who produced seven shutouts this season. “Somebody asked me before the game, what is the key? Our defense and our goalkeeper. And honest to gosh, that showed very true.”
Just as important as Lazzaro’s dazzling effort was the play of midfielder Emily Fleissner, who seemingly only left Pannek’s side during the 10-minute halftime. Fleissner shadowed the prolific playmaker from start to finish, effectively neutralizing a player that has scored 25 goals this season.
“I think Emily Fleissner controlled the middle of the field to a large degree, and I think that’s pretty commendable,” Weber said.
Pannek, who has just two games left in her soccer career — she will play college hockey at the University of Minnesota — said she tried to stay patient while waiting for a chance to strike.
Fleissner, though, never let that happen.
“That’s frustrating because you kind of have to be patient and wait for it come,” Pannek said. “But also it opens up a lot for my teammates. There’s a lot of times where I don’t get the ball, but they have their space to go for it and create opportunities.
“It’s hard for me, but it’s good for our team because it opens everything else up for them.”
That appeared to be the case in the 15th minute when Emma Van der Heide converted a Jordan Maddaus assist into the night’s only goal. The second-seeded Red Knights (16-3-1) spent the bulk of the remaining time on the attack, but to no avail as Lazzaro made daring save after daring save, including two in the final 12 minutes where the senior sprawled across the turf.
Asked if she worried about giving her coach a heart attack, Lazzaro laughed.
“It can be a little nerve-racking, but I think it’s just necessary to take those chances, especially against a really good team,” she said.
The unranked Hunters (13-4-3) were making their second state tournament appearance — the other came back in 2000. Abbreviated as it was, players and coaches alike agreed that they could glean a certain amount of satisfaction from the way they challenged mighty Benilde-St. Margaret’s.
“That was a pretty good score for us,” Lazzaro said moments after she and her teammates led a large contingent of Denfeld fans in the school song. “We came in knowing that they’d be a very good team, and the fact that we haven’t made it to state in 13 years, we just really wanted to come out here and give it our best.”
The Red Knights advance to Monday’s semifinals, where they will meet Mankato West at the Metrodome.
Duluth Denfeld ................. 0-0—0
Benilde-St. Margaret’s ....... 1-0—1
First half — 1. Emma Van der Heide (Jordan Maddaus), 15th minute.
Second half — No scoring.
Saves — Megan Lazzaro, DD, 11; Maya Berg, B, 1.