The young, but talented North Branch Viking girls soccer team had fought hard throughout the season to achieve their best results since their state tournament runs in 2016 and 2017. Despite their best efforts, however, the team fell just one game short of making the school’s third-ever state appearance with a 3-0 loss to Cloquet in the Section 7AA championship game played in Duluth on Tuesday, Oct. 19.

The Lumberjacks, who were the two-time defending Section 7A champions, stopped the Vikings cold on a lukewarm fall evening in Duluth. Cloquet’s stingy defense and excellent execution of passing prevented the Vikings from putting on any sort of consistent pressure on the Lumberjack goalie, who spent a majority of the game as another spectator of the action being played in front of her.

What also didn’t help was the Vikings came into the game at less than full strength, as was evidenced by the large knee brace being worn by senior Lilly Johnson, which was obviously hindering the speedy forward from breaking away for attacks on the goal.

Cloquet would get the only goal they would need nine minutes into the game. The Lumberjacks would add two more goals in the last 20 minutes of the game to secure their third-straight section championship.

Section quarterfinals

The Vikings came into the section tournament as the #3 seed, hosting Hibbing in the opening round at home. And it didn’t take long to establish their dominance over the Bluejackets, building a 2-1 lead at halftime on a pair of goals by sophomore Eva Gerten.

North Branch put the game away in the second half, scoring three unanswered goals to secure a 5-1 win. Gerten would score two of those three goals for a four-goal game, with Johnson adding the final score.

Section semifinals

The Vikings could have very easily placed a claim for being named the #2 seed in the tournament, as they had played Grand Rapids, who was awarded the second seed, to a scoreless tie earlier in the season. As it was, the only difference was North Branch having to travel up north to prove their point, rather than having one last home game.

This “tie-breaking” game was equally tight, featuring a number of yellow cards as the referee tried to limit the physical play. In the end, Gerten’s goal in the first half proved to be the only scoring either team would be able to achieve for a hard-fought 1-0 win over the Thunderhawks, and thus setting up the previously mentioned championship game.

While the Vikings graduate five key seniors from this team, the core group of players, including eighth-grade goalie Sharis Garcia Velazquez, who recorded seven shutouts this season, will be around for another two years or more as the team has only one junior on the roster.

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