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Woodbury girls soccer: No. 2 Eden Prairie falls to Woodbury

With an assist from senior Rachel Hewitt, sophomore Ashley Hewitt scored the first goal of her varsity career. And what a goal it was.

Woodbury, ranked No. 18 in the Minnesota State High School League preseason poll, beat No. 2 Eden Prairie 1-0, as the Royals girls' soccer team starred at a mini-tournament last weekend at Duluth East. Woodbury followed up its big win with a 2-1 victory against Andover.

The stunner happened last Friday.

"We just kept building and building and growing stronger and stronger," coach Pat Malicki said. "It was good to get a goal against such an organized team, and to see our confidence grow."

Going into the match the Royals knew the first goal of the match against Eden Prairie might be the deciding factor in the competition. The match proved to be defense-oriented, with the teams tying a firm 0-0 knot going into halftime. Both teams had a few chances, but nothing spectacular.

"Defensively we were sound," Malicki said. "A lot of times, it's going to be one break."

In Woodbury's favor was Rachel Hewitt's switch of play. She got it out wide and slipped the ball to Ashley Hewitt, who was one-on-one with the goalkeeper.

A one-goal lead must've felt like a million goals against one of the best teams in the state, and the defense staved off the Eagles' attackers to preserve the win.

Just prior to the Royals' score, Woodbury goalkeeper Shweta Raje made a game-saving play, keeping the match scoreless.

"She kept us in it," Malicki said.

Three of the Royals' first four opponents are ranked teams, so they will need to repeat the solid efforts they showed against Eden Prairie.

Woodbury barely snuck into the MSHSL rankings, but will certainly see their ranking rise after pulling off such a big upset.

In its second match in Duluth, Woodbury worked past Andover 2-1 last Saturday.

Another star emerged in junior Kylie Tschida, who got hot early and scored back-to-back goals in the match.

In soccer, a 2-0 lead isn't a safety net, so Woodbury stayed true to its defensive philosophy even as Andover made a push late in the game and gained momentum before falling to the Royals.

"I told our team, 'You guys are just plain fun to coach,'" Malicki said.

They are a mix of veterans with experience and varsity newbies who bring a lot of energy, they listen to coaches' advice, and "any downtime they're touching the ball. You can tell they love the game," Malicki said. "We have great leadership from our seniors. Some of them have been here four years, some have been here three years. There's something kind of special about this team."

The coach views the year as three short seasons: the highly competitive opening tourney in Duluth; the regular season; and sections. "Then hopefully you get to the fourth, which is state competition," he added.

The Royals won their first "season," and the second starts out with Malicki's team unafraid of any formidable enemies. Woodbury travels to Mounds View on Wednesday for its first conference matchup. An away game at Eastview is next, on Thursday.

So does Malicki have any tricks up his sleeve?

"We've just got to outplay them," he said.

Brad O'Neil contributed to this report.