Sometimes, losing doesn’t matter to Eagan senior goalkeeper Rachel Knutson.
The Wildcats enter the season having lost 13 players from last season’s Class 2A state title team, including seven who were all-South Suburban Conference selections and three named to the coaches association's all-state team.
“We need to build a team, obviously, but we’re already off to a great start,” Knutson said. “It doesn’t matter we lost 13 players (because) we gained 13 new ones.”
With the changeover complete, Knutson’s confidence remains high that Eagan won’t experience a drop-off in success this season.
“We have the talent again,” Knutson said following Eagan’s 1-0 road victory over Minnetonka in the season opener on Thursday night.
Knutson is proving to play a key role on Eagan’s reloaded roster. Listed as a backup in the lineup, Knutson got the nod Thursday night as the Wildcats held out starting goalkeeper Megan Plaschko, a sophomore who was recovering from a concussion.
Plaschko was cleared to play against Minnetonka, but Eagan decided to play it safe and start Knutson.
The Wildcats, ranked No. 1 in the Class 2A coaches’ poll, hardly missed a beat behind Knutson, who recorded five saves against the No. 4-2A Skippers to earn a shutout.
“It’s always tough losing your No. 1 (keeper), but I don’t think there was any (doubt) with the way Knutson played tonight,” Wildcats’ coach Bulut Ozturk said, adding that the team knew they were in good hands with Knutson, who made three saves in 26 minutes of action as a junior, according to stats on the Minnesota State High School League website.
“The team had full confidence going with her, and she stepped up big for us tonight.”
Eagan may have not been nervous about starting a reserve in goal, but Knutson had her own cache of anxiety. “I’m a backup for Megan, so it was a little stressful at first,” she said.
Knutson was only one Eagan senior to take advantage of an opportunity against Minnetonka, as Carly Czaplewski pounced on her chance to contribute with 25:05 to play. She motored past the Skippers defense, collected a misplayed ball and found the lower-right corner of the net to score the eventual game-winning goal.
Czaplewski has a simpler explanation for her perfectly placed shot.
“I just found the corner and it went in, and there’s never been a greater feeling,” she said with a grin.
The forward is expected to step into a more prominent role this season as she helps to fill the shoes of graduated offensive star Jade King, who now plays for Texas Tech.
“We have a lot of talent, so we’re just hoping it transfers over to games,” Czaplewski said of the team’s new look.
Ozturk said his young team’s play on Thursday was far from perfect, but he was pleased with its overall performance.
“At times we didn’t play great,” Ozturk said. “There were moments where the game got a little sloppy.
“But you could tell the effort, the energy and the desire was always there.”
Ozturk also said he prefers a narrow victory with little room for error to a blowout.
“It’s a nail-biter, and I’m sure the parents don’t like it as much,” Ozturk said with a smile. “But we’re used to it, and we’re very capable of winning a lot of games this way.”
Minnetonka's Grace Weisman (16) jumped to intercept a free kick toward Eagan forward Molly Busch (10) and the Skippers' goal in the first half Aug. 25 at Minnetonka. Photo by Mark Hvidsten
Senior forward Carly Czaplewski scored with 25:05 to play, allowing Eagan to slip past Minnetonka 1-0 on Thursday night in nonconference action at Minnetonka High School.
The Wildcats (1-0) also got a strong performance from senior goalkeeper Rachel Knutson, who made five saves.
Eagan is ranked No. 1 in the Class 2A coaches’ preseason poll and is coming off back-to-back state championships.
Sophomore goalkeeper Paige Kahlmeyer made six saves for the No. 4-2A Skippers (0-1).
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