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The Woodbury girl's soccer team beat North St. Paul 5-0 in a first round sectional tournament game at Woodbury High School Tuesday night, October 8, 2013. Woodbury's Rachel Hewitt scored the Royals' fourth goal on this first half shot while defended by No

 

The Woodbury girls’ soccer team is battle-tested and competition-approved.

The Royals played through one of the toughest regular-season schedules in the state this fall. They were only 2-4 starting out the season before going 8-1-1 leading into sections.

“We started slow, but we’ve been building,” coach Pat Malicki said.

On the schedule this year was a list of highly rated teams: Current No. 1-ranked Burnsville, second-ranked Mounds View, fourth-ranked Mahtomedi, fifth-ranked Edina and seventh-ranked Eagan, not to mention strong Park of Cottage Grove and East Ridge programs.

Woodbury players are hoping it all pays off when it counts.

“We just play such a tough, tough schedule,” Malicki said. “We’ve been playing so many top-10 teams. Each time we go out, we really have to battle to get a win or a tie. They’ve all been close games and hopefully that prepares us to be competitive throughout sections. Girls’ soccer is really kind of evening out. There are just so many good teams out there now.”

The Royals are one of them.

Leading the offensive output is center midfielder Madison Gaffney, who scored two goals in the section-opening 5-0 victory against North St. Paul on Tuesday night. For club season, Gaffney is an outside back. The Royals call on her for creativity and offensive flair to get behind opposing defenses. The senior registered 14 goals during the regular season.

It’s not Gaffney’s natural position, but she’s stepped up wherever the team needs her.

“She has a motor that just keeps going,” Malicki said. “She’s a very creative player and understands the game very well. We’ve played her at basically every position throughout her career here.”

Junior Meghan Konop has been a rock in goal.

“She usually comes up big one, two or three times a game to keep us where we can make a push to get that winning goal at the end of the game,” Malicki said.

Konop was solid last year but suffered a broken hand and also shared time with a senior goalkeeper who saw the bulk of the playing time. This year she’s made a big jump in performance, and the opportunity has been there for her to show off her talent.

“She’s a pretty focused and committed girl,” Malicki said. “She trains hard and she’s put her time in.”

Dani Nelson is another versatile, reliable player. Nelson, a junior, scored five goals during the regular season. She played back last season but is now up at center mid for the Royals and can also play up top. She has good technical skills and a strong understanding of the game.

Ninth-grader Rachel Hewitt has excelled as a substitute. She scored two goals and added five assists during the regular season. The young and talented freshman scored a goal in the section opener.

The talented roster, seasoned by the tough schedule, earned the top seed in the Class 2A, Section 4 tournament.

“I think each game we’re getting a little more confident,” Malicki said.

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