New Life Academy girls soccer: Eagles’ miracle falls just shortFaith-based New Life Academy nearly pulled off a miracle last week by qualifying for a first-ever state soccer tournament.
By: Patrick Johnson, Sports Editor, Woodbury Bulletin
Faith-based New Life Academy nearly pulled off a miracle last week by qualifying for a first-ever state soccer tournament. However, South St. Paul dashed the Eagles’ hopes with a 1-0 win in the Section 4A final.
Top-seeded South St. Paul scored the game-winning goal with 13.1 seconds remaining in the championship game – New Life Academy ’s first-ever section soccer final.
“I feel great about this, to be honest,” NLA head coach Lynn Atkinson said. “We’re a very young team and tonight we came out against a very good South St. Paul team and threw everything we had against them. I hope we get to see them again next year.”
In its first two section tournament games, South St. Paul (10-9) pummeled its opponents a combined 20-2. However, in a David-and-Goliath-esque final, New Life held South St. Paul off the scoreboard for the majority of the game. But, as the clock ticked toward zero, South St. Paul attacker Anna Barlow stole the ball from the New Life defense and went in alone toward the Eagles’ goal and put a shot past New Life freshman goalie Theresa Baranick to give the Packers the win.
“I’m very proud of the girls,” Atkinson said. “You couldn’t ask for anything more from them. They followed our game-plan and put their hearts out there on the field. Second place in the section tournament for New Life Academy is a big step.”
According to the Minnesota State High School League directory, New Life Academy has an enrollment of 209 compared to South St. Paul’s 895 students. During the regular season, South St. Paul played a majority of its games against Class AA schools – falling in close games with teams like No. 10-ranked Park 2-0, No. 2-ranked Mahtomedi 2-1 and East Ridge 2-1.
Also, New Life Academy fielded 12 players in grade 10 or below this fall.
“They’re young and I don’t even know if they realize how big of a game this was,” Atkinson said. “It’s a unique bond with this team. They want to win together and lose together. The best thing about the young girls is they listen and they want to learn. They play for the glory of God, first, and they play for each other and the older girls. We threw them into the fire and they stepped up. I’m very proud of them.”
In the game, youthful New Life Academy, the Section 4A third seed, showed composure under duress as South St. Paul was almost constantly on the attack. Two of New Life’s three seniors on the roster – Taylor Paulson and Kaitlyn Hawn – anchored the Eagles’ staunch defense in the championship game.
“They hold us firm back there,” Atkinson said. “They lead not only by their play, but off the field too. They encourage the girls and challenge them. The best thing about them is that they display confidence in their teammates. They expect them to do their roles and perform their best, but they trust them. It’s been a great year with the two of them.”
Paulson said she was actually “feeling pretty good” despite the loss.
“We did a lot of good things this year and beat a lot of teams that we’ve never beaten before,” Paulson said. “This team (South St. Paul) normally crushes us. They’re a really good team and I’m proud that we held them 1-0.”
Both Hawn and Paulson had been playing varsity soccer since the eighth grade.
“We wanted to give them a good game,” Hawn said. “We’re so happy with our defense. This is a good way to end our senior year.”
New Life Academy (12-5-1) was also aided by something that bordered on divine intervention in the championship game. South St. Paul hit the goal post four times in the game. Additionally, New Life Academy eighth grade defender Emily Henderson made a save on a ball that got passed Baranick, who also made a number of big saves to keep the Eagles in the game.
“With two minutes on the clock I thought we just needed one more chance at a goal,” Atkinson said. “I felt like if we could spring somebody, we’d have a chance to get one. I’m a very emotional coach and I was getting pretty excited. I always thought we could win this game and, to be honest, I thought we might have had it.”
New Life Academy reached the Section 4A final by defeating sixth-seeded St. Agnes 2-1 in the quarterfinals and topping No. 2-seeded Simley 3-2 in two overtimes in the section semifinals.
“I’ve never seen a team play two such highly emotional games with such young players and perform as well as they did,” Atkinson said. “If you would have asked me back in August that we would have been 13-5 and just lost the section championship with 13 seconds left to one of the best teams around I would have taken that. I’m very proud of our girls.”