Panthers’ goal: no goals against

North girls soccer team edges South 1-0, maintains scoreless streak

Lakeville North’s Stephanie Schaffer (25) plays the ball out of danger during the Panthers’ 1-0 victory over Lakeville South on Tuesday. In pursuit is Lakeville South’s Haley Lubow. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

Lakeville North’s Stephanie Schaffer (25) plays the ball out of danger during the Panthers’ 1-0 victory over Lakeville South on Tuesday. In pursuit is Lakeville South’s Haley Lubow. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

Lakeville North’s girls are playing like a team whose objective is to not allow a goal all season.

And that’s not far from the truth.

“One of our goals is to not let in more than six goals the entire regular season. That’s what we’ve been able to do the last couple of years,” said Alexis Joyce, senior goalkeeper for the undefeated Panthers girls soccer team.

North is off to a good start toward that goal, as the Panthers haven’t allowed a goal in any of their first five games. They kept their shutout streak intact Tuesday night by winning at crosstown rival Lakeville South 1-0.

“To be a good team, you need to be able to shut out other teams,” North coach Bulut Ozturk said. “In the two and a half years I’ve been here, I believe we have 34 shutouts in 49 games. Defense is one thing we take pride in.”

That approach has taken the Panthers to the state tournament the last two years. They finished third in Class AA last year and fourth in 2011. Tuesday’s victory over Lakeville South strengthens North’s chances of being the No. 1 seed in Section 1AA, where South and Farmington also figure to be contenders.

“You want every advantage you can get in the section tournament, and if we’re the No. 1 seed we’d get to play every game at home,” Joyce said.

Despite being undefeated and unscored against, the Panthers aren’t that close to No. 1 in the state coaches association ranking. They were seventh in this week’s Class AA poll. One possible explanation is they haven’t been blowing out other teams; four of their five victories have been by 1-0 scores.

Many of North’s top returning players are on the defensive end of the field. Simone Kolander, the Panthers’ leading scorer the last two seasons, graduated last spring and now plays for the University of Minnesota. She was at Lakeville South’s stadium on Tuesday to watch her alma mater play.

Kolander’s absence has been felt at North. “We’ve had to make some changes in how we score,” said senior defender Lauren Sherry. “We have to get the ball to the wings, up the sideline and then cross it, instead of just relying on a player (Kolander) with an amazing shot.”

Ozturk said he’d be more concerned about the lack of scoring if the Panthers weren’t getting opportunities. But the chances have been there, the coach said. Now the Panthers have to see if they will convert more of them as the season progresses.

In Tuesday’s game, senior forward Sarah Fisco scored early in the second half with an assist from Kendall Naatjes. The defense made it stand up, no easy feat against a Lakeville South team that has scored as many as nine goals in a game. South is 4-2-1 overall, with the losses coming against top-10 teams Lakeville North and Eastview.

“The first half (against Lakeville South) was pretty bad for us,” Joyce said. “We usually don’t let teams dominate against us like that, but Lakeville South is a really good team.”

North’s defense had held firm even though it lost senior captain Lauren Brownrigg to a broken collarbone in late August. The Panthers expect Brownrigg to return before the end of the season. Stephanie Schaffer, a sophomore, has filled in well in Brownrigg’s place, Joyce said.

Lakeville North plays at Duluth East at 5 p.m. Saturday and is home against Apple Valley at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17. The Panthers will be tested Thursday, Sept. 19, when they play at fifth-ranked Burnsville. The Blaze also is undefeated (5-0-1) and unscored on this season.

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