Pioneers boys, girls soccer fall short in section title games

The Hill-Murray boys and girls soccer teams both competed for their respective Section 4, Class A titles on Oct. 18 against Mahtomedi. The boys played at Mahtomedi, while the girls played at home.  

The seventh-seeded Pioneers and first-seeded Lady Pioneers were both just one game away from representing their sections at the state tournament. However, both teams fell short to Mahtomedi. The girls lost in a 3-2 nail-biter, while the boys lost 3-1. 


Girls soccer 

The Mahtomedi Zephyrs had a 2-1 lead when Hill-Murray middlefielder Caralyn Connors booted the ball from around 30 yards out to find the back of the net with a little under four minutes left. It seemed like this title game was going to go to overtime. 

With 16 seconds left, the Zephyrs’ Sydney Panek didn’t panic and managed to get a shot off that reached behind the goalie for a 3-2 Zephyr win. Talk about a walk-off fashion win. The defending state champs will look to defend their title at the tournament again this year.

The first half was scoreless, and it wasn’t until the second half when things got interesting. About five minutes into the second half, Hill-Murray was dealt a red card, and the Pioneers were down one player the rest of the game. 

It was during the 56th minute when Hill-Murray got called for a handball down on its defensive end. That gave the Zephyrs a penalty kick opportunity, and Audrey Sexson executed off that kick, lifting Mahtomedi 1-0. It was only moments later when Hill-Murray tied the game off a Zephyr own goal. Senior Anna Ayd was credited with the score.

Mahtomedi’s Lauren Heinsch battled down field for a loose ball with a Pioneer defender. The Hill-Murray goalie came out to challenge, but Heinsch beat her to the ball and was able to trickle it past the goalkeeper to give Mahtomedi a 2-1 lead. 

This matchup was a lot more competitive than last year’s section final game when Mahtomedi blew out Hill-Murray 6-0. 

The Pioneers outscored their opponents 13-0 in the two games leading up to this. Hill-Murray defeated Concordia Academy 9-0, and Cristo Rey Jesuit 4-0. Mahtomedi also cruised to the finals. The Zephyrs beat St. Croix Preparatory Academy 6-0, and St. Agnes 9-0. 

Hill-Murray finished the season with an overall record of 14-4-1, and finished first in the Metro East Conference during the regular-season. Mahtomedi had a 12-5-1 record, and finished second in the Metro East.

Pioneers head coach Simbo N’diaye couldnt be reached for comment.


Boys soccer

When the Pioneers’ Kenny Larmie launched the ball about 30 yards after a throw-in, the ball had a slight curve that wound down through traffic in front of the net. Mahtomedi’s goalkeeper put a hand on it, but Anthony Banderas found the rebound to put the ball in the net. Hill-Murray held a 1-0 lead at halftime, though that would be the Pioneers’ only lead of the game.

For that first half, no one would have thought that Hill-Murray finished with a 6-9-1 regular-season record. It wasn’t an easy road to the finals; the Pioneers had to play both the second-seeded Hmong College Prep Academy and third-seeded St. Croix Preparatory Academy. 

Hill-Murray shut out both teams with a combined score of 5-0. The Pioneers secured a first-round win against Concordia Academy 2-0 according to the Minnesota State High School Sports League website.

“They had been working hard all year and could have quit, but we decided to focus on what we could give, rather than get,” Pioneers head coach Jeff Zupfer said. “The shift really changed the mentality of our team, and players began to act on their commitment.” 

Mahtomedi came back in the second half, and finally made up for all the opportunities the team missed in the first. The Zephyrs scored three unanswered goals to finish out the game. The game was in Mahtomedi’s favor when the score was 2-1 with under ten minutes left. Hill-Murray just couldn’t answer back, as the Zephyrs scored an insurance goal, which brought the lead to 3-1. 

Zupfer showed nothing but respect for Mahtomedi head coach Dominic Isaac and his team. 

“This Mahtomedi team is very skilled,” Zupfer said. “Dominic does a good job of getting his team organized.”

The Pioneers had hit a low point during the season after a 2-1 loss to South St. Paul on Sept 27. The team had lost six games by one goal at that point in the year, and that’s when the frustration kicked in. Zupfer said that the team held an off-field group session to try and refocus and improve communication. Zupfer credited that session with the team’s late season push. 

As for Mahtomedi, the Zephyrs will be representing Section 4A in the Class 1A tournament with an impressive 16-2 record. It’s the first time since 2014 Mahtomedi has reached the tournament. The Zephyrs lost to DeLaSalle 1-0 four years ago at state, and DeLaSelle was runner-up in the tournament that year. 


-Lucas Ailport can be reached at

Rate this article: 
No votes yet
Comment Here