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Lakeville North girls' soccer captain, Lindsay Frietag, and her teammates practice in t-shirts with light blue writing to honor former teammate, Alyssa Ettl, who was killed in a car accident last winter. ] (SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE/BRE McGEE) **Alyss

 

Balance is the key, Lakeville North senior Chloe Wikstrom said. “That’s what we’ve worked hard to find.”

Balance in style of play. Balance in not letting lofty expectations weigh on her Panthers girls’ soccer team. And balance in honoring a former teammate and friend, while still trying to enjoy the game she and her teammates all love.

“We’ve just worked to have the right mindset with it all,” Wikstrom said.

Wikstrom’s former classmate Alyssa Ettl died in a car accident last winter. Ettl would have been a captain this season. Wikstrom is one of four girls who will wear captain armbands with Ettl’s initials sewn onto them.

Playing in her memory, as well as having coach Jeremiah Johnson leave the school’s boys’ team to be the new coach for the girls’ team, Lakeville North’s team will have a distinctly different feel this year. But the goal remains the same: a state title.

“We want to be playing on the last day of the season,” Johnson said. “That’s the goal: play as long as we possibly can.”

The trend is there. In 2011 Lakeville North finished fourth in the Class 2A state tournament. The Panthers were third the next year. Last season, they were one goal shy of a state title, losing to Minnetonka in the championship match.

“I’m just trying not to screw anything up,” Johnson said jokingly.

His players feel that Johnson’s new approach has helped the team in a new direction — toward the offensive end of the field.

With a talented backline that included Lauren Sherry, now playing at Central Michigan, and Lauren Brownrigg, now at Arkansas-Little Rock, the 2013 Panthers were a defensive-minded team, waiting to capitalize on opponents’ mistakes and eking out close games.

“There were a lot of 1-0, 2-1 wins, all by one goal,” senior co-captain Lindsay Freitag said. “This year, we’re going to have more success up top and really take it to teams.”

Johnson said the team will focus on a style of play that “better suits the personality of the school, taking it to teams and imposing our will on other teams.”

That stems from a talented group of forwards and midfielders.

This fall’s preseason tryouts attracted athletes who played for 17 different club teams, Johnson said. Some are on Elite Clubs National League squads, and even more play in the Midwest Regional League.

The heavy offseason schedule, combined with a change that allows ECNL players to also compete on their high school teams, has put the Panthers in position for early success.

“We start with an endurance challenge on the first day, and I was blown away by the level of fitness we have on our team,” Johnson said.

Freitag and Wikstrom, along with their fellow senior captains Chloe Polly Sjoberg and Stephanie Butler, have worked hard to get the team in the right frame of mind in the season’s early going.

They’ll honor Ettl in “subtle” ways, Wikstrom said, and through their effort on the field.

“The biggest thing is just playing every game like it’s your last,” Freitag said, “because you never know when it could be.”

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