Rumors swirled like the howling wind at Ordean Stadium on Wednesday night that an increasing number of positive COVID-19 cases in St. Louis County is threatening to shut down high school athletics.
Anoka took a different tack in shutting down the Duluth East girls soccer team’s season.
Senior Sierra Jordan-Huffman scored with 2:05 remaining in the second half to lift the fifth-seeded Tornadoes to a 2-1 win over the fourth-seeded Greyhounds in a Section 7AA quarterfinal.
Jordan-Huffman collected a loose ball in the penalty area and directed a left-footed shot past goalkeeper Lainey Benson for the game-winning goal in a game affected by driving rain and gusting winds.
East ended its abbreviated season at 6-3, while Anoka (5-3-4) advanced to Monday’s semifinal round.
“It was a 4 vs. 5 matchup. If we play 10 times, they’ll win five and we’ll win five,” East coach Steve Polkowski said.
A crazy finish should have been expected in a crazy coronavirus-dominated year, one in which East had to take a two-week quarantine at the beginning and canceled three games. Positive tests have kept soaring and are nearing the 14-day threshold of 50 positive cases per 10,000 people countywide that would force the Minnesota Department of Health to recommend distance learning for all public schools in that county.
“When the kids look back on this season in 10 or 20 years, they're going to have some stories,” Polkowski said. “If you had told us the beginning of the year that we’d get nine games in and a section tournament, I think every one of us would have taken it.”
After a scoreless first half, Elise Pirewski put the Tornadoes on the board in the 58th minute by chipping over Benson from the right wing.
East senior forward Molly Henderson equalized seven minutes later as she pounced on a ball that escaped University of Oklahoma-bound goalie Olivia Rowe and drove into the back of the net.
Rowe made eight saves as East controlled much of the play before Jordan-Huffman netted her first goal of the season.
Henderson still had another quality chance to send the game into overtime that Rowe turned aside, effectively ending East’s season.
“It was definitely crazy coming into the season with COVID and only playing a local schedule instead of a double-A schedule,” Henderson said. “We’re used to playing Cities teams (like Anoka) and we had to just play the teams from the area.
“It was unfortunate that it had to happen in our senior season. But we all had to make the best of the season as best we could.”
Despite the finality of it, Polkowski said his players kept a good attitude.
“It was a wacky year taking two weeks off at the start of the year and having another game canceled (later), but it’s one for the memory book,” he said. “At the end of the day, we were playing soccer in the middle of a pandemic. You take the wins and losses with a grain of salt because they got to play the game they love in a wacky season. It was a fun season even with the oddness of it.”
Duluth East 4, Anoka 3
Jack Mitchell, Jackson Descombaz, Aiden Olson and David Wallerstein scored goals and the Greyhounds held off the Tornadoes in a 7AA boys quarterfinal at Ordean Stadium.
Amma Okoro had three assists for East (11-1), which led 2-1 at halftime and added two second-half goals before hanging on. Anoka scored its final goal with 24 seconds left.
The third-seeded Greyhounds will travel to face No. 2 Andover (8-3-1), a 3-0 winner over Coon Rapids, in a semifinal at 5 p.m. Monday.