Over the first six games of the season, things went pretty smoothly for the Mankato East girls soccer team.
The Cougars were undefeated and, in the middle of that stretch, strung together four consecutive shutouts, equaling their clean-sheet total from last season.
“I think, overall, our team chemistry has really improved from last year,” coach Lizzy Vetter said. “And we’ve spread out our scoring, which has helped. We’re not relying on one or two players to score but three, four or five that can put the ball in the net.”
East’s good start came to an end on Tuesday afternoon, however, as a bigger, older and, more importantly, faster Owatonna team halted the Cougars’ win streak with a 4-1 Big Nine Conference victory at Thomas O. Anderson Fields.
The Huskies scored all four goals in the first half. The Cougars’ lone goal came on freshman Julia Fischer’s free kick in the second half.
“We knew they would be a challenge,” Vetter said. “The biggest thing for us was their speed. They played a lot faster than the other teams we’ve played up to this point.
“We play with a lot of speed in our attack, but it was a little different adjusting to their play in the first half. I think we came in a little unprepared.”
Senior defender and captain Oliver Starkey agreed.
“I feel like they came out strong and had speed up top,” she said. “I think we were caught a little off guard.”
The Huskies controlled most of the first half, putting seven shots on goal to the Cougars’ two.
They got on the board in the fourth minute when Anna Herzog’s pass split the East defense and created a long breakaway run for Grace Wolfe, who waited for goalkeeper Emily Eckheart to commit before booting the ball away from her and into the net.
Less than three minutes later Gabriela Breuer made it 2-0, getting an assist from Asia Buryska.
“We have fast back-line players,” Vetter said. “But we couldn’t keep up, especially when we faced that not once, but two or three times. We got wore done. ...
“As we like to say, we were playing in their flow; we weren’t playing in our flow.”
Arianna Shornock made it 3-0 in the 29th minute, kicking in a well-placed cross from Breuer. Two and a half minutes after that, Herzog scored on an assist from Wolfe.
The second half was more evenly played with Eckheart making four saves, including an impressive stop late in the game on another clean break by Wolfe.
A couple of Cougars chances missed the net, one getting deflected just wide and another sailing over the crossbar, which would have put them back in the game.
With 12:01 remaining, Fischer finally got East on the board when her free kick from outside the box went over the Huskies’ wall and in past goalkeeper Samantha Fredin.
“Once we got connecting in the second half, it seemed like a whole new game,” Starkey said. “We found our speed up top again. ... We came in knowing that it was going to be a hard game, and that might have gotten into our heads a little bit, but once we calmed down we played better second half.”
The Cougars (6-1) will travel to New Ulm on Thursday for a 6:45 p.m. game.
For the Huskies, the win improved them to 3-3. Their slate has included wins over Mankato West, currently ranked No. 7 in Class A, and losses to Eagan and Lakeville North, which are ranked No. 4 and No. 9, respectively, in Class AA.