The Eden Prairie girls’ soccer team has high aspirations for their 2022 season. But to reach their goals, the Eagles know they need to play their best against the best. Saturday’s game against 2nd ranked Edina, which opened Lake Conference play, had the makings for a good early-season test.
“They’ve won the Lake Conference the last couple of years,” Eden Prairie head coach Kelly Taylor said, adding that the Hornets don’t have many holes in their lineup. “They have some of the best players in the state and on reputation alone, they’re always good.”
Unfortunately for the Eagles, Edina’s play on Saturday matched their notoriety, as the Hornets came away with a 2-1 win on their home pitch at Kuhlman Stadium.
Edina jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first half, with goals from freshman Lou Ruffien and junior Disha Roy. But the Eagles were able to keep the Hornets’ most dangerous weapon out of the scoring column.
Eden Prairie freshman defender Leah Gschwendtner was given the afternoon’s most arduous task: to cover one of the state’s top players, Edina’s Izzy Engle.
“For any freshman to go out and go toe-to-toe with an All-American, who’s a junior, and really hold her own across the board, it’s great,” Taylor said after she named Gschwendtner the Eagles’ player of the game.
“Izzy is probably the top player in the state of Minnesota right now,” Taylor said. So to see a freshman be willing to do that is fun.”
Gschwendtner, who played last season for Minnesota Thunder Academy, enjoyed the challenge of keeping pace with one of the best players in the state.
“It’s nerve-wracking going into it,” Gschwendtner said. “But once you’re on the field, it’s just like playing any other team, they’re just big. But it was fun.”
Gschwendtner’s youth and enthusiasm are representative of a young Eagles team that has only six seniors for the 2022 campaign. Fellow underclassmen Emma Nguyen, a sophomore, got the lone Eden Prairie goal in the second half.
“We talk about playing big and we’re growing into a lot of roles there,” Taylor said. “Being able to hold off some of the better defenders and make a play. I thought Emma did a nice job with that on the goal.”
The Eagles held Edina scoreless for the rest of the game with solid play and steady leadership from junior goalkeeper Lily Mattison.
“We looked really good today,” Mattison said. “Obviously, there’s things we can do to improve. There’s always room for improvement, but it’s a really good start to play Edina; a great start for our conference.”
Mattison is coming off all-state honors from last season and provides a wealth of confidence for the Eagles in the defensive zone.
“She made some big saves for us today,” Taylor said. “That’s how you’re going to stay in games with really good teams and you have to have a goalkeeper that can do that for you. And she certainly did that for us today.”
Saturday’s loss gives the Eagles a 2-2 overall record with an 0-1 start in Lake Conference play. They’ll have the opportunity to even their conference record when they travel to St. Michael-Albertville on Tuesday. And make no mistake, they’ll be building on the lessons learned from playing one of the state’s top programs.
“They grew into the game,” Taylor said. “They adjusted. They did things that we needed to do. And those are all things that we have to continue to do.”
As for a return matchup against the highly-rated Hornets, the Eagles won’t have to wait long to gauge their progress.
“It’s the Lake Conference, you play everyone twice,” Taylor said. “So we get them at our place in a few weeks and will be willing to continue to fight.”
ALSO NOTED: In Lake Conference boys’ soccer on Saturday, Eden Prairie fell to Edina 3-2 in overtime.
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