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The St. Francis girls soccer team made history Oct. 21, clinching the program’s first-ever trip to state with an 8-1 win over Zimmerman in the Section 6AA championship. The Saints enter state with an undefeated 18-0 record and as the No. 4 seed in Class AA.

An early joke told the truth.

There were no holes in the lineup, no weak links. The team looked too good to be true. It was a team poised for improvement and success that seemed nefarious, if not impossible.

The St. Francis girls soccer team’s dominance has been no joke, however. And for opposing teams, it has been all too real.

Allowing a mere five goals through 18 games, the Saints wrapped up an undefeated regular season and run through the Section 6AA Tournament Oct. 21, powering past Zimmerman 8-1 to clinch the program’s first-ever trip to the state tournament.

“Earlier this season, a ref asked me after the game if I recruited my team? My eyes got big and wide and I was like, ‘What? That’s against the rules!’ He smiled and laughed which then I realized he was joking,” said St. Francis head coach Joan Johnson, who was named the Class AA Coach of the Year. “But then he went on to say how he was so impressed by our team, and that he did not see any holes in our starting lineup and we have many great players come off the bench. He went on to say that he saw tremendous talent at every position all over the field and how that is so rare and then asked me again if I had to have recruited them! This was an amazing compliment coming from a great ref that sees so many different high level talented teams play and it was also great motivation for our girls to keep pushing on even harder. I as a coach did see the same thing he saw, but the reassurance and sharing that story with the team felt great.”

St. Francis’ early momentum never slowed, only grew.

Four of the team’s opening five matches resulted in shutouts. Shortly after, a streak of six straight wins by shutout followed.

While the team undoubtedly has its standouts, the team’s dominance was not the product of a couple of stars, rather a persistent collective effort from a group that has grown alongside one another for years.

“We are lucky to say that we had a good majority of our team from last year back again for this season,” said senior Lauren Buzzell, a finalist for the state’s Ms. Soccer Award. “Having played and practiced with each other for an extra year really helped transition into this season quickly. From the start of this season, all of us set what our overall goals were and we worked for them. I think we really came out with a bang this year because we have a roster of girls who know that if we work as hard as we can, we can beat any team they put in front of us.”

“I believe this team has been so strong because we are cohesive and work incredibly well together,” said Mattisyn Mensink, who was also named all-state this week along with Buzzell. “Our success comes from every player on our team adjusting and contributing to the game. Our team goals and assists come from a wide range of players rather than a few individuals.”

After finishing the regular season 15-0, the Saints earned the top seed in Section 6AA.

There, the success continued, shutting out Becker and Willmar by 4-0 scores to earn a chance at history in a rematch against Zimmerman.

After defeating the Thunder 2-0 earlier in the year, the Saints put the title game away early, rolling to an 8-1 win.

“Coming off a full undefeated season, with only four goals scored against us, you could say that we were ready to hit the ground running,” Buzzell said. “Our first game was a slower start than we would have wanted, but just like in the conference season, we quickly figured out our groove. The second game was fun, our last home game and finishing off all the seniors’ last time playing in our stadium. We’d played Zimmerman before and we knew that both teams had grown since then. We had multiple conversations as a team before that whistle blew and all of them had the same message: come out strong, and play at 110%. The section final was probably the best game we’ve ever played before. Hopefully, we can bring this momentum into the first state tournament that St. Francis has ever been to!”

“Our team executed very well through sections,” Mensink said. “We took it one game at a time, just like we did all season. Playing our regular game with poise and confidence led us to the state tournament.”

Makayla Rothbauer and Amber Quasbort each scored two goals against Zimmerman, with one apiece added by Abrielle Mann, Isabella Cable, Buzzell and Mensink.

As the final seconds ticked off the clock there was no drama, yet no shortage of celebration.

“I was hanging out at the half line with my teammate, Morgan Porter,” Buzzell said. “Everyone was up for a corner kick and I’ll never forget looking at the clock counting down from 30, looking at her, and asking repeatedly, ‘Did we just do that? Did we really just do that?’ We were both smiling as big as we could, because we were trying to hide that we were tearing up. It didn’t feel real, four years of playing with this school, with these coaches and with all the players that I got the opportunity to learn from, all leading up to this moment in our school’s history. By the end of the night I didn’t have a voice left to talk with. I’d been cheering and yelling so loudly.”

“As the time ticked down, I looked around and all of my teammates were smiling,” Mensink said. “It was a great feeling of accomplishment as getting to the state tournament was one of our main team goals this season. Receiving our medals and holding the plaque in front of our parents and fans as they cheered us on was one of the best feelings ever. I am very proud of my teammates and I for making school history, being the first St. Francis girls soccer team to make it to the state tournament.”

“These girls have a tremendous work ethic and high standards for themselves,” Johnson said. “Coming into the section tournament they all knew exactly what they wanted and it showed in the section final game by playing the best soccer that we have played all year and having a final score of 8-1.”

It’s hard to dare dream of going undefeated through the section tournament, to make history as the first in school history to go to state.

It’s no longer a dream, however — it’s reality.

“This has been a magical season for our team, school and community,” Johnson said. “I’ve been coaching soccer for MSHSL for 24 years now and this season is something we could only dream of ever happening. These kids came to practice every day, worked very hard and haven’t taken anything for granted. They have made the most out of each and every game and are constantly looking for ways to improve as a team. These kids have sought out to be the best team ever in St. Francis history and have not allowed a limit to be placed on what they can accomplish. So, yes! I knew they could do it and I could see how bad they wanted it.

“This team has positive player-led leadership. They are talented and smart, both on the field and in the classroom, They are a great representation of what an MSHSL athlete should be and are all great representations of our St. Francis community: they are humble, hard working, tough and extremely competitive.”

St. Francis earned the No. 4 seed in the Class AA State Tournament and was scheduled to play No. 5 Cloquet-Carlton in the quarterfinals Oct. 27.

The state semifinals are at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis Nov. 4. The championship is at U.S. Bank Stadium Nov. 6.

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