When she played soccer in college, Jennifer Kessler promised herself that if she ever became a coach, she wouldn’t be harder on her center midfielders just because that was her position.
Then Kessler was hired to lead the Mandan Braves and got the chance to coach Mariah Fredericks.
“I guess I’m hypocritical,” Kessler said with a laugh.
Kessler admits that she demands a little more from Fredericks. Fredericks has responded by developing into a special player, one reason Mandan has a chance to make its first state tournament since 1995.
Fredericks, already a two-time all-stater, rose to the challenge again on Tuesday. The senior midfielder scored the only goal as the Braves shocked perennial power Century 1-0.
“It was super exciting,” Fredericks said. “Everybody on the team gave it their all and played incredible. Our keeper, Rachel Ford, made some incredible saves, and the defensive line stepped up.”
So did Fredericks. The game plan for the Braves was to play conservatively and choose their times to attack wisely. That’s exactly what Fredericks did, firing a shot from 35 yards out to give Mandan the lead.
Fredericks said that’s her sweet spot.
“I’m not the most accurate shooter,” she said. “I’m really the most successful when I can float the ball over the keeper. That’s my range.”
That was one of just two shots the Braves put on net, but that was enough. Ford, a third-year starter, frustrated the Patriots all night.
“She made some huge saves,” Kessler said.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of the win for Mandan. Century has ruled the West, finishing first in the regular-season standings nine of the last 10 years.
In contrast, during the 15 seasons from 1997 through 2011 the Braves won a total of just 15 games. But last year the Braves improved to 4-9-1. The Braves currently are 2-2-0, and thanks to a Century forfeit against Jamestown, have sole possession of third place. The top four teams advance to state, which is something Mandan has never done since the NDHSAA began sanctioning the tournament in 1996.
Kessler, in her third season, says she has been impressed by Mandan’s progress.
“We’re trying to change the culture,” she said. “The girls are taking it upon themselves, collectively as a group, to do what they need to do. They were tired of seasons of losing every game 5-0. … I can’t speak for other schools, but coaching at Mandan, every girl has been so willing to get better.”
Fredericks, who already has two goals and an assist this season, is a case in point. After making the all-region team as a freshman, Fredericks earned all-state honors in 2011 and 2012. And Fredericks, who will play next season at Colorado Christian University, keeps getting better.
“She’s a great team player,” Kessler said. “She has been a captain for two years, and she’s really good with her younger teammates. She always offers constructive encouragement and never gets discouraged.”