By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
NORTH MANKATO —
Nick Olson never wants a game to get to penalty kicks, but he spent Monday night studying how to better defend them.
“I even did it at school today,” the Mankato East sophomore goalkeeper said.
The extra homework came in handy Tuesday, as Olson made a pair of brilliant saves to give the Cougars a semifinal win over Mankato West in the Section 2A boys soccer tournament at Dakota Meadows. Regulation and a 20-minute sudden-death overtime ended in a 1-1 tie, so the winner was decided with the shootout.
The Cougars were successful with their first three kicks, while West made one before Olson came up big.
“Players are supposed to score,” East coach Jerrad Aspelund said. “It’s not supposed to come down to the goalie.”
But it did.
Olson got lucky on West’s first miss, as he guessed wrong on Paul Esslinger’s shot. However, the ball clipped a piece of Olson’s shoe and deflected off the post.
After that, however, Olson was spot on. He dived to his left to knock away Kennedy Maker’s try and then reached high to bat away Nick Herwig’s attempt.
“Those were all driven balls, too,” Aspelund said. “They weren’t slow rollers. It’s hard to get to those.”
Meanwhile, Ahmed Sugulle, Brandon Sloniker and Albert Podshivaylov all made their kicks to put the Cougars up 3-1 in the shootout.
“It has to come down to a shootout; I wish there was a better way to decide it,” West coach Leonard Woelfel said. “It’s always a tough way to end it. But we practiced it all week; we practiced it last night.”
Olson’s save on Herwig sealed the win, and the goalkeeper was mobbed by his teammates, who charged the field from the sidelines.
“It was the best feeling ever,” Olson said.
Olson finished with six saves. That included an impressive one in overtime when he jumped up and punched down Bill Leitch’s free kick perfectly placed over a wall of East players.
Scarlets goalie Sam Farley made four stops.
West led 1-0 on a goal by Esslinger with 7:30 to play in the first half. He headed in a free kick from Herwig after an East yellow card.
East scored in similar fashion to tie the game with 17:26 to play in the second half. Podshivaylov had a free kick following a West yellow card, and Farley made an initial save on a header. But Brandon Treinen, who was called up from the JV team for the playoffs, put in the rebound.
“What a way to burst in,” Aspelund said.
The Cougars will play the winner of Tuesday night’s game between top-seeded Fairmont and St. Peter on Friday.