The Owatonna Huskies will play their biggest game of the year on Thursday when they travel to take on the Rochester Mayo Spartans. The winner of the game will take home the title of Big Nine Conference girls' soccer champions.
The Huskies (7-0-1 Big Nine, 9-2-1 overall) are looking for their fourth conference title in five years, but will have to defeat a physical Spartans team (8-0-0 Big Nine, 12-2-2 overall) in the process.
“Their strength is their defense,” says Huskies head coach Jay Warner, “It will be our high-powered offense against their high-powered defense.”
Last season the Huskies were a young and inexperienced team, but the growing pains have paid off as the Huskies are now using their experience and team chemistry to defeat their opponents.
Warner also said the team is playing well because, “The offense has finally clicked. We have played together, not individually. A second reason is that the girls are at the same age and skill level now, and having a returning goalie is very important.”
To defeat the Spartans on the road, the Huskies will lean heavily on senior Lauren Cochlin and freshman goalkeeper Paige Lysne.
“Lauren is a key player for us, scoring 18 goals with 5 assists so far this season,” says Warner, “The defenses are zoning in on her, which leaves our other forwards open. Paige is another key player as she has the experience as the returning goalkeeper.”
As if the pressure of playing for a conference title wasn’t enough, Thursday’s game may also determine whether the Huskies will play their first playoff at home or on the road. If the Huskies defeat the Spartans, they have a strong possibility of earning the No. 2 seed, which would allow the Huskies to host the first two rounds of the playoffs at home, but if the Huskies fail to beat the Spartans they could be looking at a first-round road game. With the playoffs right around the corner, Warner believes his team will do well come crunch time.
“Our goal coming into the season was to become big nine conference champions,” says Warner, “Last year we were so young with lots of freshmen. We only have five seniors this year. As the girls come up they get more experience and assurance. Now the girls have confidence since they’ve been here before, and that’s what we need.”
The Huskies travel to face the Spartans at 7 p.m. on Thursday to wrap up the regular season.