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High school soccer: Hermantown's Hoff leads Hawks past Esko

For a player accustomed to hefty goal totals, Hailey Hoff doesn't spend much time fretting over the stat sheet. Hermantown's senior striker cares merely about the win-loss column, and thus far the Hawks are collecting wins at an impressive clip. ...

Hawks girls soccer
Lyla Abukhodair (right) of Hermantown celebrates with teammate Hailey Hoff after scoring a goal against Esko during Thursday's game at Corey Veech Memorial Field in Hermantown. The Hawks defeated Esko 4-1. Photo by Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com

For a player accustomed to hefty goal totals, Hailey Hoff doesn't spend much time fretting over the stat sheet.

Hermantown's senior striker cares merely about the win-loss column, and thus far the Hawks are collecting wins at an impressive clip.

"When it comes, I shoot the ball, but if I have another player that has an opportunity, I let them have it," Hoff said after Hermantown's 4-1 win over Esko on Thursday evening at Cory Veech Memorial Field in Hermantown. "It's more just finishing, it doesn't matter who it is. Points don't really matter -- I mean they're great -- but winning the game and being a team player is what's important."

Winning has become habitual for the 8-1 Hawks, whose current seven-game winning streak dates back to the team's only setback, Aug. 24 against Rosemount. The Hawks' cadre of offensive weapons is demonstrated by the fact that they've outscored their opponents a dizzying 38-4 during the eight-game surge.

While Hoff is on pace to shatter the school scoring record she set a year ago, when she had 22 goals and 14 assists, the Hawks are far from one-dimensional.

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"Hoff scores a lot, but (our goals) are evenly distributed usually, so we all kind of contribute," said speedy junior forward Lyla Abukhodair, whose 11 goals trail only Hoff's 18 for Hermantown.

Thursday, Hoff got things started when she slithered free behind the Esko defense and beat goalkeeper DeAhna Kulas to the far side in the 12th minute. Seven minutes later, it was Madison Danelski's turn. After Kulas made a sprawling save on a point-blank Hoff drive, Danelski buried the rebound for a 2-0 lead.

Hoff finished the first half scoring by converting a header off a booming assist from Sophie McGovern.

Just that quick the Hawks had built a three-goal advantage over a strong Esko team.

Abukhodair made it 4-0 in the second half, and the Eskomos' Kailee Kiminski closed the scoring with a goal in the 76th minute.

"We played better the second half," Esko coach Jeff Emanuel said. "We basically tied the second half. First half we were scrambling, and that's obviously because of their offensive chemistry."

Emanuel said the Eskomos didn't alter their game plan in an effort to neutralize Hoff.

"I'm not really the type of coach that's going to mark up one of the top players in the area," he said. "If we stay in our positions, which we did not the first half, it should take care of itself."

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Hoff is poised to flirt with the 30-goal mark given her two-goals-per-game average. Just don't expect her to dwell on that individual achievement.

"(Hoff) holds our school record for points per game, and if she gets three points per game, she's happy, and if she gets none for three games in a row, she's happy as long as we're successful," Hermantown coach Scott Larson said. "That's the way all these girls are."

Thursday's game offered the Hawks a bit of revenge after losing to Esko -- then an Esko-Carlton co-op -- 2-1 in overtime of the 2012 Section 7A championship game. That contest followed a 1-0 double-OT win for the Hawks over the Eskomos in the regular season.

Larson, whose team seemingly is hitting its stride heading into the second half of the season, nonetheless knows there's work to be done.

"We're there, sort of, but we don't want to peak too early," the coach said. "I don't think that will be an issue because they all know that we can improve."

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