WOODBURY — Facing one of its biggest Suburban East Conference challenges of the season, the Stillwater girls soccer team extended an impressive SEC unbeaten streak while holding off the ninth-ranked Royals 1-0 on Wednesday, Sept. 14 at Woodbury High School.
The No. 1-ranked Ponies, who are the only team among the state’s top 10 in Class AAA without a loss or tie this season, have not lost to a conference opponent since falling to Cretin-Derham Hall late in the 2019 season. Stillwater is 21-0-3 in its last 24 league games.
The latest was no walk in the park, but an important victory as the Ponies (3-0 SEC, 9-0) hope to repeat their conference and section titles of a year ago. It was the first conference loss for Woodbury (2-1, 4-2), which joins Mounds View (2-1-0, 4-2-1) and Roseville (2-1, 3-4) in a tie behind conference co-leaders Stillwater and White Bear Lake (3-0, 6-2).
“We knew going in that Woodbury will probably be one of those top three teams in the section,” Ponies coach Mike Huber said. “It helps us in the conference and hopefully will put us in the running for the top seed in the section. It had a playoff game type feel to it and if we play again, like it always is with Woodbury, I’m sure it will be a close game.”
The wind was a factor in this game and the Ponies were dealing with that and a spirited effort from the Royals in the first half.
“I’ll be honest, Woodbury kind of took it to us the first half,” Huber said. “The wind was against us and they just beat us to a lot of balls. They were aggressive and physical with us and we kind of struggled the first half and they had a couple opportunities to score goals. We just didn’t seem to be in sync.”
The momentum shifted in a big way for Stillwater when junior Brooke Nelson knocked in the rebound in the 51st minute after a hard shot from Rylee Lawrence was knocked down by the goalkeeper. It was the only scoring required as the Ponies notched their seventh shutout in nine games this season.
“The second half we picked it up and our intensity level rose,” Huber said. “It was a tale of two halves. We had the wind in the second half and for whatever reason our energy level picked up to do to them what they did to us in the first half.
“In the first half we gave Woodbury a lot of time and space to turn and really just gave them too much time in the middle of the field. The second half we were more aggressive and much better being on them tight. Neither team generated a lot of offense, but in the second half that’s how we created our offense was being tighter defensively and that helped us create more opportunities up front. I was proud of the effort in the second half and that they weathered the adversity in the first half and came out with a sense of urgency in the second half.”
Reese Elzen, who has not allowed a goal all season, finished with four saves for the Ponies.
“She was really good again,” Huber said. “She made a couple of great saves and was aggressive coming off that line.”
Stillwater is scheduled to face seventh-ranked Centennial in a nonconference game on Saturday, Sept. 17 and then hosts White Bear Lake in another key conference game on Tuesday, Sept. 20. The game against the Bears is also Youth Night for the girls and boys teams, which means all youth soccer players are admitted free if they wear their VAA or St. Croix Soccer Club jersey.
Stillwater 0 1 — 1
Woodbury 0 0 — 0
St — 51:00 — Brooke Nelson (Rylee Lawrence)
Shots on goal — St: 4; Wo: 4.
Corner kicks — St: 2; Wo: 3.
Fouls — St: 4; Wo: 6.
Goalie saves — St: Reese Elzen 4; Wo: Ava Williams 3.
Stillwater 3, Roseville 1
At Oak Park Heights, freshman Alayna Muths delivered two first-half goals to help send the Ponies to a 3-1 conference victory over Roseville on Monday, Sept. 12 at Stillwater Area High School.
Muths scored on an assist from Brooke Nelson in the 19th minute and scored again just three minutes later to provide a two-goal cushion.
Roseville (2-1 SEC, 3-4) kept things interesting with a goal in the 51st minute, but Nelson added an insurance goal for the Ponies with five minutes remaining.
“Roseville always plays us tough,” Ponies coach Mike Huber said. “They’re physical and aggressive and well coached. Once the (Roseville) goal happened it just seemed like we were disorganized for 15 or 20 minutes after that and Roseville put some pressure on us, but they didn’t have a lot of high quality chances. Brooke scoring was a big one because we were under some pressure right before that.”
Parker Reardon finished with six saves for the Ponies.
Roseville 0 1 — 1
Stillwater 2 1 — 3
St — 19:00 — Alayna Muths (Brooke Nelson)
St — 22:00 — Muths (unassisted)
Ros — 51:00 — NA
St — 75:00 — Nelson (Rylee Lawrence)
Shots on goal — Ros: 7; St: 12.
Corner kicks — Ros: 2; St: 4.
Fouls — Ros: 2; St: 6.
Goalie saves — Ros: Aliyah Witte 9; St: Parker Reardon 6.
Stillwater 6, Duluth East 1
At Duluth, the long bus ride did little to slow down the Ponies while cruising to a 6-1 nonconference victory over the Greyhouds (2-5-1) on Saturday, Sept. 10 at Duluth East High School.
Five different players collected at least one goal as part of a balanced Stillwater attack.
Luka Johnson scored just seven minutes into the game and Brooke Nelson, Rylee Lawrence and Izzy de St. Aubin also notched first-half goals to build a 4-0 lead. The last of those came just as time expired in the first half.
“Considering the 2 1/2-hour bus ride before the game, we played probably one of our better games of the season,” Ponies coach Mike Huber said. “We played some energy and had a lot of good goals. It’s been nice that we’ve had balanced scoring across the board.
“I thought we did a pretty good job of winning the 50-50 balls and really attacking the red line and getting to the end line. We were really just trying to push forward and go to goal.”
The Ponies didn’t let up in the second half. Nelson scored her second goal in the 55th minute and Elsa Johnson extended the lead to 6-0 just two minutes later.
Duluth East (2-5-1) eventually spoiled the shutout as Grace Karakas notched the first goal the Ponies have allowed all season.
“It was going to happen at some point,” Huber said. “The winning streak is more important than the goal streak.”
The coach was pleased with the trip and things the time spent together away from the field is beneficial two, especially for a team with 8 seniors and 10 freshman — with just two juniors and one sophomore bridging that gap.
“The freshmen typically don’t hang out with the upperclassmen so it forced everybody to hang out for 24 hours,” Huber said. “It gets the girls together away from soccer and it’s good team building. They did a scavenger hunt in Canal Park before we came back and just enjoyed the time together off the field.”
Stillwater 4 2 — 6
Duluth East 0 1 — 1
St — 7:00 — Luka Johnson (unassisted)
St — 23:00 — Brooke Nelson (unassisted)
St — 31:00 — Rylee Lawrence (Lauren Cuta)
St — 40:00 — Izzy de St. Aubin (Nelson)
St — 55:00 — Nelson (unassisted)
St — 57:00 — Elsa Johnson (Lawrence)
DE — 58:00 — Grace Karakas (unassisted)
Shots on goal — St: 15; DE: 3.
Corner kicks — St: 7; DE: 2.
Fouls — St: 7; DE: 22.
Goalie saves — St: Reese Elzen 1 and Parker Reardon 1; DE: NA 9.