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Raider girls' soccer team sets stage for success

Captains of the 2014 Raider girls’ soccer team are, from left, Marki Thompson, Alexa Haines and Lauren Berglund. The Raiders open the season at the D.C. Everest Invitational in Schofield tis Friday and Saturday, April 11-12. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Bob Burrows)1 / 2
Raider girls’ soccer head coach John Knutson, foreground, with his daughter and former head coach Ali Knutson at a game last year. (Submitted photo)2 / 2

Before the Raider girls’ soccer team ever set foot outside for practice this spring, they took part in a Team Building Day at the YMCA Camp St. Croix facility.

All 16 varsity players and 21 junior varsity players took part in a variety of outdoor activities conducted by the camp staff before head coach John Knutson led the team in an exercise called “Lifeline,” where the girls listed the highs and lows of their life.

“Since the passing of one of our players, Jordann Costello, in the fall of 2012 when she took her own life, it's been important to me for the girls to understand they are not alone,” Knutson said. “We want each of these girls to understand, we all have problems, we all have issues and when we can come together and work together, play together, laugh and cry together, you start to understand that your friends will listen, and they do care. You are not alone.”

This year’s three senior captains—Lauren Berglund, Alexa Haines and Marki Thompson—decided to adopt one of Costello’s favorite sayings as the theme for this year. “Sono Forte” is Italian for “I Am Strong.”

“Jordann was so committed to the phrase that she had a tattoo with the inscription on the back of her neck,” Knutson said. “Out of friendship, love and solidarity to their former teammate, the senior captains wanted to use that phrase to remember their friend and to inspire this year's group.”

Berglund said the “Sono Forte” theme and Team Building Day have helped inspire the team as it prepares to open the season this weekend at the D.C. Everest Invitational.

“I like it because you get to see what you’re teammates have gone through; you’re not the only person,” she said. “We got to know each other better and it’s great to have the support of your teammates.”

Thompson said she’s looking forward to that support translating into success on the playing field.

“The more we bond, the better we play, and I think we’ll just get better as the season goes on,” she said. “I think we click really well together as a team.”

Last year’s Raider squad finished with a record of 7-7 in a foul-weather plagued spring that forced the team to cancel and reschedule its first 12 games. Despite the setbacks, the Raiders still reached the regional finals for the third straight year.

Haines, who earned All-Big Rivers Conference honorable mention as a junior, said she’s looking forward to better things this year.

“I think we’re going to be a lot better than last year,” she said. “I think this is the best team I’ve played on. Overall, we’re more skilled that any other team I’ve been on, and we have more team bonding, We’re close as a unit.”

In addition to the three senior captains, the Raiders also bring back last year’s leading scorer and All-BRC Second Team pick, junior Maggie Koehler.

Knutson said he believes the Raiders are poised for a special season.

“The talent on this year's team is only eclipsed by their positive attitude and exceptional effort to start the season,” he said. “I ask the kids all the time, ‘What are you willing to give, to get what you want?’ We have the talent this year to not only compete with River Falls and (Eau Claire) Memorial, who have been the perennial powers for the last several years, but to beat them and win the conference title and beyond. I can see it in the girls eyes; they believe they win the conference, and so do I.”

Knutson said team speed will be one of the Raiders’ strengths this season.

“Our varsity team, while not the biggest in stature will have great speed and endurance,” he noted. “Combine that with terrific ball handling skills and I really like our chances to dominate possession this year.”

While 16 players are on the varsity roster, each team is allowed to suit up 18 players per game, so Knutson said he plans to rotate one or two junior varsity players into each match.

“What it does, is it tells every JV1 player that with the proper effort and attitude at practice, they have an opportunity to be selected and earn the right to come up and play varsity soccer,” he said.

He said one downfall this season is that Hudson does not have a JV2 team. Hudson was the last team in the conference to have a JV2 program.

“It hurts to cut kids,” he said. “I believe it's the worst part of coaching. But this year we had to face the facts; while the other teams in the Big Rivers Conference struggle to get enough kids to field two teams, Hudson is blessed to have an abundance of soccer players who are trying out to make the teams and we have enough for more than three teams.”

Knutson said Hudson had 60 girls try out for a total of 36 spots on varsity and JV1.

“In the end we did decide to over-roster the JV1 team and we kept 29 players who will rotate in the games so each player will play in at least 10 games,” he said. “Counting the 16 varsity kids, there are 45 lady Raider soccer players for Hudson High School this year.”

Following this weekend’s tournament at D.C. Everest, the Raiders will host Hayward in their home opener Monday, April 14, at 5 p.m. at the middle school field. They open BRC play against Menomonie at home Thursday, April 17, at 7 p.m.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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