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Fairmont Area girls soccer seeks encore performance

SET FOR KICKOFF — Members of the Fairmont Area Cardinals girls soccer lineup ready to kick off the season against St. Peter at 7 p.m. tonight at Kot Soccer Complex in Fairmont include, front row (l-r): Head coach Matt Nielsen, Alexis Newville, Hannah Goerndt, Tegan Roskop, Anna Busche, Kaylene Lindquist, Hailey Obernolte, Apoorva Komaragiri, Macy Anderson, Allison Janssen, Anna Utermarck, Kalie Hanna and assistant coach Peter Nielsen. Second row: Kaiden Boerner, Lexi Kaufman, Kady Pedroza, Shelby Fogelson, Emma Schultze, Lily Hohenstein, Joni Becker, Savanah Baker, McKayla Chambers, Angel Smith, Hailie Handevidt and Lizzie Nielsen. Third row: Gracia Heille, Jayden Mayhall, Samantha Castro, Cayla Phinney-Colby, Jayden Smith, Alexis Hinz, Alyssa Wiederhoeft, Mackenzie Carlson, Maddie Maakestad, Kate Busche and Alysen Lindquist. Back row: Ellie Schultze, Sami Lenort, Hannah Bergt, Selma Bleess, Cadence Becker, Rayah Quiring, Carissa Saxton, SkyeLi Malo, Abby Cihoski, Bailey Martinson, Brooklyn Meyer and Mackenzie Householder. Not pictured: Emma Scheppmann and Alexis Rojo. (Photo by Greg Abel)

FAIRMONT — No triskaidekaphobia in 2018.

Fairmont Area head coach Matt Nielsen’s Cardinals rewrote the girls soccer program’s record books during the 13th year of its existence last fall.

The Cardinals reached the Section 2A championship match for the first time ever en route to compiling an impressive 14-3-2 overall record, including a 9-1-2 mark in the Big South Conference.

So, what do the Cardinals do for an encore performance in 2019, starting with tonight’s 7 p.m. season-opener against league rival St. Peter at Kot Soccer Complex in Fairmont?

“Speed, quickness, athleticism and ball control will still be our strengths again this season, but we are not last year’s team,” said Nielsen, who enters his 14th campaign at the helm. “I told our girls, ‘You are who you are,’ and that’s pretty good.”

“Now it’s up to me to try not to mess it up,” Nielsen said with a wry smile.

Nielsen’s opening-day roster, however, will likely wipe any hints of smiles off its opponents’ collective faces as the Cardinals return lethal legwork at all 11 starting spots on the field.

Senior midfielder Lexi Kaufman and senior striker Joni Becker return to spearhead Fairmont Area’s potent offense after each varsity veteran earned all-conference accolades in 2018. Kaufman garnered her second consecutive team MVP award, while Becker was tabbed the Cardinals’ co-offensive MVP.

“Lexi was better last year than the year before and that’s saying something about a two-time MVP and two-time all-conference selection,” said Nielsen. “She’s the motor that makes us run.”

Kaufman joins senior defensive stalwarts McKayla Chambers, Lily Hohensee and Kady Pedroza as Fairmont Area’s captains this fall.

“She’s remarkably steady and physical at the same time,” Nielsen said in reference to Chambers, who pocketed honorable mention all-BSC accolades, in addition to the Cardinals’ defensive MVP award, a year ago.

“Kady’s feet are quicker than last season, and she has continued to improve,” Nielsen said about Pedroza. “She’s become our vocal leader and that’s not always easy, but her sense of humor helps in those situations.”

Hohensee, who rounded out Fairmont Area’s 2018 honorable mention all-conference selections along with goalkeeper Cadence Becker, will be an integral cog in the team’s defensive wall for a second straight season.

“Lil’s the quiet care-giver,” said Nielsen. “She’s steady and a calming influence on our team.”

Sophomore Carissa Saxton will rejoin the smothering back line of defense this fall, while Becker — also a sophomore this year — will patrol the net on the heels of posting a single-season school-record eight shutouts during her varsity debut.

The sophomore tandem of Sami Lenort and Mackenzie Householder, along with junior Brooklyn Meyer, will reunite with Kaufman in the midfield, while sophomore Rayah Quiring and senior Emma Schultze will flank Becker at forward.

Seniors Hailey Obernolte and Hailie Handevidt, along with sophomores Bailey Martinson and Samantha Castro, will provide skilled depth in the Cardinals’ defensive rotation, while the sophomore duo of Ellie Schultze and Alyssa Wiederhoeft will do likewise in the midfield. Senior Savanah Baker and junior Maddie Maakestad will add firepower to Fairmont Area’s frontline attack.

“I reserve the right to make changes in the lineup,” Nielsen said with a laugh.

Sophomore Cayla Phinney-Colby, junior Tegan Roskop, and seniors Apoorva Komaragiri and Shelby Fogelson also figure into the playing mix this fall.

“St. Peter will be our between-the-ears litmus test in our season-opener, while I sense Waseca and New Ulm will be strong within the Big South this year,” said Nielsen. “Beyond our conference opponents in the section, (defending champion) Mankato West is usually one of the perennial favorites to win it, while Waconia really improved a lot last season.”

So, how do Matt Nielsen and his coaching staff of Peter Nielsen, Kelly Quiring and Jesse Koskovich plan to keep the players’ competitive edge razor sharp without putting too much pressure on them?

“Yoga on Fridays,” said Nielsen. “Claire Gerhardt, one of my former players, discovered yoga, embraced it and is certified in teaching it.

“When I was working on my masters’ projects, I ran into Claire and after talking to her for a while, decided to bring her in to not only help our toning and conditioning, but add mental relaxation to the mix.

“It’s a great way to end a week of practice.”

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