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Reece Clifford celebrates his goal against Holy Family. (Photo courtesy of Anna Syversen)

The Orono Men’s Soccer team went into Section 6A play as the second seed, hosting Heritage Christian Academy in the first round of play. Donning their traditional “section cuts” hairstyles, which features a mix of shocking orange, bleached blonde and interesting head shavings, the team played like a band of brothers with trust, respect and skill.

Orono had early opportunities from Ben Summers and Will Johnston and finally took the lead after 15 minutes when Finn Rohrer finished a nice pass on the right wing from Summers. It was Rohrer again minutes later, scoring off a corner kick from Johnston. Nick Larsen and Cal Ehlen made strong plays in the midfield for the Spartans distributing the ball to Aiden Ecker and Brody Cook while Jacob Schmid and Sebastian Loder kept the defense in check. The teams went into the break with Orono leading 2-0.

The Spartans continued to dominate in the second half but were unable to score again until Ben Halloff connected midway through to make the score 3-0. Sam Christiansen got the Spartans fourth goal off a penalty kick when Rohrer was fouled in the box. Johnston added to the goal tally with a low driven shot to the left corner and Ecker made some great runs late in the game to keep the Heritage Christian defense and goalie working. Orono finished with a commanding 5-0 win.

Next Orono faced neighboring rival Mound Westonka on a blustery and rain soaked evening. From the start Nick Overturf had great attacking runs from defense to fire up the Spartans and Jamie Bazil sent some dangerous free kicks to the White hawk zone but the teams remained scoreless until Ben Summers finished a cross from Reece Clifford with seven minutes left in the first half.

Matias Maule-Silva and Holden Scharf also gave the Spartans scoring opportunities but they were unable to convert. Despite managing the Mound attack for a majority of the game the White Hawks got the equalizer midway through the second half. Midfielder Andy DeWitt had a breakout effort, scoring two goals within ten minutes and giving Orono some breathing room with a 3-1 lead. Solid goal keeping from Michael Hughes and defending by Sam Christiansen, Riley Paul and Ben Cashin preserved the Spartan’s advantage. Mound did not go down without a fight however, scoring to cut the lead to one with just under a minute remaining, but the Spartans held on for the tough 3-2 victory.

After a reschedule due to frigid temps and wind chills on Saturday, Orono took the field once again to face the Holy Family Fire in the Section semi-final. While the teams played to an over time tie game in the regular season, Orono looked more composed and focused this outing as they started with aggressive passes and dictated a majority of play in the first half. Captains Reece Clifford, Jamie Bazil, Nick Byrnes and Nick Overturf seized the moment and played like leaders - keeping their squad calm and never letting up. Orono had multiple scoring chances early, one of which came off a beautiful cross from Clifford and a diving header by Ben Halloff that was miraculously saved by the Fire keeper. Finn Rohrer, Brody Cook and Holden Scharf lit up the Fire defense with their speed and ball skills but the teams remained scoreless.

The teams continued to threaten each other in the second half with repeated corner kicks but Orono’s determination paid off midway through when Bazil sent a free kick into the box from 40 yards out and Clifford connected perfectly with a header to the left side of the net past the keeper. With the score in their favor, Orono could have sat back and defended but they continued to attack against Holy Family. Byrnes was relentless at defense heading the ball out of Spartan territory and Ben Summers nearly padded the lead with a brilliant run and shot as the minutes ticked away but the Fire keeper made an excellent save to keep Holy Family in the game. 

“Every single game we are getting better and better. We have learned to take one game at a time and never take any moments for granted. It’s been an electric season so far and I hope we can continue for a couple more weeks,” Captain Nick Byrnes said after the semi-final win.

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