Panthers break through, reach title game

North edges Burnsville 1-0 in girls soccer tourney

What did it take for Lakeville North to finally reach the state girls soccer championship game?

Lower expectations.

Not necessarily from the Panthers; their goal always has been to win the state title. But, not being the team everybody else was looking at seemed to help.

North defeated undefeated and No. 1-seeded Burnsville 1-0 on Tuesday afternoon in the Class AA semifinals at the Metrodome. Forward Olivia Bruce, a ninth-grader, scored the game’s only goal with 6 minutes, 8 seconds remaining.

The Panthers reached the state championship game for the first time as Lakeville North. Lakeville High School went to the state final in 2004, the final soccer season of Lakeville’s one high school era.

Lakeville North (15-2-3) plays Minnetonka, which defeated Eden Prairie 3-2 in double overtime in the other semifinal, in the Class AA championship game at 3 p.m. Thursday at the Metrodome. Burnsville (17-1-3) faces Eden Prairie for third place at 8 a.m.

Each of the last two seasons, Lakeville North was the No. 1 seed in the state tournament, only to lose in the semifinals. This year, the Panthers came in as the No. 4 seed, with Burnsville No. 1.

“I think not being seeded No. 1 took some pressure off us,” said North goalkeeper Alexis Joyce. “As underdogs, we knew we had to play hard and not just expect things to happen.”

“We’ve been where Burnsville is, and being the No. 1 seed is tough,” Panthers coach Bulut Ozturk said. “We said the No. 1 seed was cursed at the state tournament.

“We talked about how the No. 1 seed didn’t win the state tournament two years ago. A couple of our younger players asked which team that was, and we had to tell them it was us. We talked about how the No. 1 seed didn’t win last year. Again, that was us.”

Burnsville controlled play early in Tuesday’s game and had several chances to score, including a shot by Abby Soderholm that sailed just above the crossbar.

That forced North into a formation change. The Panthers started in a defense-minded 4-4-1-1 before switching to a 4-3-3.

“It just seemed like No. 6 (Soderholm) was running the show out there,” Ozturk said. “We thought if we had more numbers up top, it would put a little more pressure on them.”

North started to create a few more scoring chances and was awarded a corner kick with a little more than six minutes remaining. Sarah Fisco sent the ball to the front of the net. Players from both teams went after it and Burnsville goalkeeper Darby Lofthus tried to punch it out of danger. But the ball settled at Bruce’s feet, and all she had to do was direct it into an open net.

Joyce made five saves as the Panthers earned their 16th shutout of the season. Hannah Mitby had five of Burnsville’s nine shots. Burnsville, which defeated Lakeville North 2-1 in a regular-season South Suburban Conference game, was shut out for only the second time this season.

For eight Lakeville North seniors, it ensured they would play in a state championship game before they graduated.

“I can’t even say what happened to us at state the last two years,” said senior defender Lauren Brownrigg. “We had a lot of good players. Those were really solid teams.

“We might not have as much talent this year as we had the last two years, but this team has a lot of pride.”