Orono's Gabby Hyrkas (6) and Mia Van der Heide of Holy Angels fought for the ball in the first half on Monday. Orono plays defending Class 1A champion Mahtomedi in the first of four title matches on Thursday. Photo: CARLOS GONZALEZ, Star Tribune
Mahtomedi Zephyrs (15-2-2) vs. Orono Spartans (15-3-3), 10 a.m.
Mahtomedi at a glance: The Zephyrs have talent everywhere, led by all-state players Audrey Sexson, Lauren Heinsch and goalkeeper Megan Lisowy. Heinsch and Sexson scored in the semifinals. But the key to the Zephyrs is their constant defensive pressure, which extends through the entire field and forces opponents into mistakes and turnovers that often become goals. Mahtomedi has defeated Orono in each of the two previous state championship games.
Orono at a glance: With 12 seniors, the Spartans are experienced, heady and eager for one more shot at Mahtomedi. “For those seniors who have lost for two years to Mahtomedi, I think they’re really pumped to get back,” coach Erin Murray said. Goalkeeper Clare Gagne has 11 complete-game clean sheets and hadn’t given up a goal since mid-September before Holy Angels notched one in the semifinals. Watch out for freshman forward Nora Chouanard, who has five goals in the postseason after only scoring six in the regular season.
Holy Angels (20-0-1) vs. Blake (17-4), 12:30 p.m.
Holy Angels at a glance: Denied meeting Blake a year ago at U.S. Bank Stadium, undefeated Holy Angels gets its chance Thursday. Its 3-1 loss to Bemidji in last season’s state semifinal kept the Stars from the title game, but a 4-1 comeback victory Monday over St. Cloud Tech gets the Stars there against the defending champs. “It’s like getting over the hump of last year when we took a loss that none of us felt like we were about to or should have,” senior midfielder David Oslund said. They’ll play without suspended goalkeeper Peter Forseth, who was shown a red card on Monday for bumping the referee.
Blake at a glance: Sophomore midfielder Keegan James’ stunning 55-yard, free-kick strike in overtime went viral and won the Bears the state title last season. Now they’re back again after defeating Orono 4-1 on Monday when James scored another memorable goal and Will Mortenson scored two more that built a 3-0 lead. “To go back and defend our title, it’s beyond words,” senior co-captain Howard Henderson said. “Especially when you look at the crew that left last year and the crew that came up this year. Not all of us really thought we’d be here and here we are. We’re making it work.”
Centennial Cougars (18-2) vs. Maple Grove Crimson (17-2-1), 3 p.m.
Centennial at a glance: The Cougars defeated Maple Grove 2-1 this season. But their motivation goes back to last year’s section final loss against the Crimson. “We’ve used that, kind of as a platform, to springboard us when we aren’t playing well or when we get scored on — how to fight back,” Centennial coach Ginger Flohaug said. After a physical semifinal against Rosemount, the Cougars are ready to showcase their skill. They and Maple Grove “have a lot of similarities,’’ Flohaug said, “which I think is actually a strength to our game.”
Maple Grove at a glance: The Crimson haven’t allowed a goal in the past four games. Coach Ben LeVahn, shooting for the program’s first state title, said, “If we play at our best, we feel like the game is going to go well. We feel like we matchup well. Centennial has some dangerous attackers.” LeVahn was talking about Cougar junior forward Khyah Harper, who has 25 goals this fall. He said the quick and fast Harper “does require a little special attention, a little special practice.”
DAVID LA VAQUE
East Ridge Raptors (17-2-1) vs. Edina Hornets (21-0), 5:30 p.m.
East Ridge at a glance: The talented, composed Raptors gained confidence from watching Edina labor to create scoring chances in the semifinals. “They didn’t score until the Washburn goalie got [ejected],” senior midfielder Miles Sitcawich said. “So if they can’t score on Washburn, I think they’re beatable. We tied Washburn 1-1 and we were leading that game until the last two minutes. Although Edina’s record is impressive, I think we have a really good chance.”
Edina at a glance: The undefeated record is impressive. Not to be overlooked, however, is the Hornets’ six-game shutout streak. “Our defense has just really picked it up,” junior goalkeeper Hank Stechmann said. “They’ve been locking down the forwards and just not giving them any opportunities. Most of the credit goes to our midfield and back line.” Edina seeks its first title since winning three in a row from 1999-2001 under current coach Dave Jenson.
DAVID LA VAQUE