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Maple Grove girls best Blaine in battle of undefeated teams

By Ryan Williamson, SportsEngine , 09/05/17, 9:15PM CDT


Meredith Haakenson scored one goal and assisted on two more, helping the Crimson improve to 4-0.

Meredith Haakenson (14) moves the ball past Blaine defender McKenna Miller (17). Haankenson scored the game-winning goal for Maple Grove less than three minutes into the game in their 3-0 win Tuesday over Blaine. Photo by Cheryl Myers, SportsEngine

On paper, the numerous awards make Maple Grove senior midfielder Meredith Haakenson stand out.

Tuesday night, Haakenson stood out just minutes into the match.

The 2016 Gatorade Minnesota Girls Soccer Player of the Year scored for the Crimson (4-0) less than three minutes into the game against Northwest Suburban Conference foe Blaine (4-1). It proved to be the game-winning goal as Maple Grove won the battle of undefeated teams 3-0 at Maple Grove High School.

On the field, Haakenson has proven to be one of the state’s bright young stars. She helped the Crimson advance to the section final last year and is committed to play collegiate soccer at Michigan.

Her talent has Maple Grove eying another deep postseason run, and in the third minute of the game against the Bengals, the future Wolverine showed why.

Haakenson emerged through a scrum and scored a goal that even she admitted wasn’t that pretty.

“For us, the biggest goal is just to get on the board right away. It always gives us the momentum,” Haakenson said.

As the game continued, Haakenson began to take on the role of facilitator for Maple Grove’s offensive attack. Her pass to junior forward Mannon McMahon helped set up the Crimson’s second goal of the match, which gave Maple Grove some much-needed insurance. She also was involved with her team’s final goal, which came with just over a minute remaining in the game.

“For as much as you see her do well on the ball, she does some great things off the ball,” Crimson coach Ben LeVahn said. “She is just as good facilitating high up in the play. She rarely puts a pass in the wrong spot.”

Speaking on defense, both Haakenson and LeVahn were quick to credit the team effort that’s led to Maple Grove’s unblemished record. Through four games, the Crimson have outscored opponents 14-0, helping propel the team to No. 3 in the Class 2A coaches' poll.

During Tuesday’s match, the Crimson once again showed its defensive prowess. In the first half, the Bengals struggled to get the ball anywhere near the Maple Grove net.

“We don’t have to just handle (Haakenson),” Blaine coach Scott Zachmann said. “Maple Grove is well-coached and consistently plays as a team. You can’t just focus on one player.”

When the Bengals did find themselves with a chance to put the ball in the net, they were stymied by a strong Crimson back-end, which features sophomore goalie Sarah Cortez.

“I haven’t seen any nerves from her at all,” Haakenson said of the young goaltender. “There have been times this year where our front line and defense have broken down and she’s been there to save us.”

Though Maple Grove is riding high and climbing the rankings quickly, the Crimson and Haakenson aren’t getting too haughty. Haakenson is quick to credit her teammates and their stinginess on defense.

For Haakenson and Maple Grove, an entire team effort will be necessary to avenge past losses. A year ago, Maple Grove held a second-half lead of the Class 2A, Section 5 championship, before falling 3-2 to Centennial. This season, the Crimson want to be the ones making their way to state.

“With everything that happened last year, we’ve seen our girls work hard this offseason,” Haakenson said. “That loss really drove us to continue to improve.”

Blaine senior goalkeeper Amy Powers makes a diving save in the first half. Photo by Cheryl Myers, SportsEngine

First Report

A Maple Grove goal less than three minutes into Tuesday’s match, from senior midfielder Meredith Haakenson, provided enough offense for the Crimson, who added a pair of late insurance goals and defeated Blaine 3-0 on Tuesday at Maple Grove High School.

Haakenson’s early goal came on a set play opportunity and gave the Crimson the lead for good against its Northwest Suburban Conference foe.

Maple Grove got its second goal of the match as senior forward Shelby Handberg took a well-placed pass from junior forward Mannon McMahon and gave the Crimson a 2-0 lead. Sophomore midfielder Luca Ralph tallied Maple Grove’s final goal of the night.

Maple Grove (4-0) shut down the previously undefeated Bengals with a strong defensive effort led by sophomore goalie Sarah Cortez. The Crimson have yet to allow a goal this season.

Blaine (4-1), meanwhile, kept No. 3-2A Maple Grove in check during the match thanks to timely saves from Bengals senior goalie Amy Powers, including a point-blank chance for Haakenson in the final minutes of Tuesday’s match.

Shelby Handberg (10) maneuvers the ball upfield. Handberg gave the Crimson a two-goal lead late in the second half. Photo by Cheryl Myers, SportsEngine

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