Kelly Taylor has been coaching for 15 years. In that time, the Eden Prairie girls soccer head coach has experienced the realities of competition, both on the winning side and the losing side.
After Edina eliminated the Eagles from the sectional playoffs on Tuesday night, she shared that lesson with her team.
“There’s only one team – at the end of the day – whose season doesn’t end like this,” Taylor said. “And that’s the team that wins the state title. And these never get easier.”
The Hornets, favored by many at the start of the season to go deep into the playoffs, jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first half. Edina’s all-state midfielder Izzy Engle was a one-player wrecking crew. The junior scored three goals on the night as Edina advanced to the semifinals of the Section 2AAA playoffs with a 4-1 win.
The loss ends the season for the Eagles, who bid farewell to six seniors on the squad.
“We talk about leaving things better than they found them. And this group of kids certainly did that for us,” Taylor said. “Obviously it’s not the result we wanted tonight and not how we thought this was going to go. But at the end of the day, all you can ask them to do is show up and play. And that’s what we did tonight.”
The Eagles kept the game close with tight defense and the next-level play of goalkeeper Lily Mattison. The all-state junior turned away numerous chances by the Hornets and kept the Eagles in the contest.
Eden Prairie’s lone goal came off a penalty kick. Junior defender Elisabeth Rupp found herself squaring off with Edina’s elite goalkeeper Bayliss Flynn. Prior to the PK attempt, Rupp kept her head down to maintain focus.
“I was trying not to look at her,” Rupp said with a laugh after the game. “I didn’t want her to get in my head. I knew where I was going before I was going up there. So I just tried to focus on what I could do.”
Rupp’s kick went right by Flynn to bring the Eagles within one goal of the Hornets with 13:50 remaining in the first half.
But behind the speed of the Edina attack and the three goals by Engle, the Hornets powered through for the victory.
After the game, the Eagles gathered as a team for one final time on the pitch at Kuhlman Stadium.
“I’m proud of everything we’ve done, but it’s also just so sad to see it all have to come to an end,” said senior Matilda Vergara Santibanez. “We’re just a really hard working group of girls. And the fact that it has to be over tonight, it’s overwhelming.”
Despite the loss, this Eagles team enjoyed successes both on the field and off in 2022, growing together as a team and striving to improve each week. But their most notable accomplishments were achieved in the classroom.
“They’re incredibly smart academically. They carry over a 3.9 GPA as a team.” Taylor said. “This was definitely a team that wanted to learn. They definitely liked each other. This was a team that got along incredibly well, and that’s all you can ask on most nights.”
As the Eagles say goodbye to the six seniors, they look ahead to a promising season in 2023. They’ll have 16 players returning from the varsity roster, including their anchor Mattison in the net.
“We have a lot of young kids coming back, Taylor said. “We just told them that now it’s time to think about what comes next and what we need to do.”
The Eagles finish with a record of 4-10-3 on the season. But for this group, there were countless victories that could not be listed in the box scores.
“Honestly, it felt like a family,” Rupp said. “Practices were so fun, everyone’s super close. I’m just going to remember the bonds that we have with everyone and I’m super excited for next season.”
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