By Thomas Weltin
The stakes were high for the Mound Westonka High School boys soccer team’s last regular season game of the 2017 campaign! The winner of the match between Orono and the White Hawks on Oct. 9 was also going to be the winner of the Wright County Conference.
The game, originally scheduled for Monday, was rained out, and the makeup date was cold but dry. It was also Homecoming Week, so Haddorff Field was packed with parents, students and fans. In other words – the stage was set.
The White Hawks knew what a dangerous team the Spartans were. After all, they were ranked No. 1 in the state at the beginning of the season. Coach Wayne Bellamy told his players that the best defense was a good offense; play the game in their half, be quick to the ball, find the open teammate and attack the penalty box. For defensive measure, midfielder Santiago Phommahoxay was assigned man coverage to one of their midfielders. The Westonka defense knows to be resolute and to not take any chances.
From the kickoff, the White Hawks tried to follow that blueprint and forced the Spartans into defense. An early free kick from senior Owen Mather tested the Orono goalie. Heartstopping action came already in the fifth minute after the Spartans keeper mishandled a pass back from one of his teammates. The kick landed only 10 yards away and right at the feet of senior forward Philipp Weltin. He was totally surprised and could not get a shot off in time.
Over the course of the season, the White Hawks learned that they have a handful of set plays up their sleeves that are tough to defend. Senior co-captain Hank Nagel ambushed the Orono defense with a long throw into the crease. Junior Joe Fasching headed the ball into the Orono goal in the 10th minute for a 1-0 lead.
Just 10 minutes later, Weltin was roughed up just inside the Orono box. The referee blew the whistle but moved the spot of the foul to just outside the penalty box for a free kick instead of a penalty shot. Co-captain Mather is responsible for executing 80 percent of these free kicks. Weltin’s header sailed over the crossbar.
The Spartans were careful and only penetrated the White Hawks’ half on very few occasions. When they did, they were lightning fast and dangerous. Senior co-captain and keeper Jonathan Neve paid attention on a fast break and fished the ball out of the air before the Spartan forwards got to it. However, Orono was able to score the equalizer in the 33rd minute. 1-1 was also the score at halftime.
Orono was much more aggressive in the second half of play. Neve made a huge save the 48th minute. His fingertips reached a hard shot from 20 yards and redirected the ball around the post and out of harm’s way.
In the first 20 minutes of play, the White Hawks had to fend off wave after wave of fast attacks through midfield and over the left side. Their crosses were always dangerous into the back of White Hawks defenders. Eventually, a Spartan attacker arrived at the ball first and managed to put the ball on net. Neve saved the ball with an incredible reflex but was not able to react in time to the rebound from close distance. Orono had the 2-1 lead after 60 minutes of play.
The White Hawks were now in desperation mode. The student section was screaming and chanting, providing additional adrenaline to an already nerve wracking match. Orono bowed to the pressure, and all they could do was to defend. Westonka had numerous half-chances that were cleared by the goalie.
The pressure was mounting and the clock was ticking. In the 73rd minute, the White Hawks were awarded a free kick at the 50-yard line, all the way on the left side. Westonka needed everyone on offense, so Neve left his goal and kicked the ball to the 16-yard line, where most of the home team was situated.
Senior Matt Humbert was first to the ball and headed it further to the right side, where Weltin and sophomore Daniel Neve were looking for a chance at a shot. Weltin slammed the brakes after he saw that Neve was in a slightly better position to handle and trap the ball. The young forward did so under big defensive pressure, glanced at the target and converted a line drive inside the left goal post. The goalie stretched but did not have a chance for a save. The game was tied, and Haddorff Field was now rocking!
The game went into overtime, where both teams had equal possession of the ball. At 4 minutes into the first period of overtime, Orono was awarded a free kick after a foul 40 yards out. The ball was passed high into the White Hawks penalty box and headed into the net for the 3-2 lead. Headers are tough to read for a goalie, and Neve had no chance for a save.
The White Hawks desperately tried to tie the score in the remaining 5 minutes, but the final score was in favor of Orono. It was the first and only loss of the season for the MWHS boys soccer team – a remarkable achievement!
With a 10-1-3 record, the White Hawks secured the No. 2 seed in the very competitive Section 6A. Their first opponent will be the International School of Minnesota on Oct. 10. Going forward in the single elimination tournament, the hometown team also has Delano, Mayer, Willmar and Holy Family as possible opponents before meeting the other side of the bracket, where Orono, Monticello and Southwest Christian, among others, are playing for a trip to the section finals. Problem is….you have to keep winning!
The White Hawks had a magnificent season. Their play over the last two months gives plenty of reason to be optimistic.
UPDATE 10.13.17 – The White Hawks started Section 6A playoffs on Oct. 10 with a home game against the International School of Minnesota. The home team earned an 8-0 victory to move on to the next round. Also at home on Oct. 12, the White Hawks defeated Delano 1-0 in overtime. The No. 2-seeded White Hawks will now face off against No. 6-seeded Holy Family in the section semifinals at home on Haddorff Field on Saturday, Oct. 14, at 7 p.m.