Mandan’s soccer resurgence has been a few years in the making.
After some lean years, the Braves appear poised for a sustained run of success. With just one senior on the roster, Mandan is in hot pursuit of the No. 2 spot in the West Region as the regular season winds down.
Coach Stephen Weston is not surprised by his team’s success, but it did not happen overnight.
“There were a few years (we) were getting pummeled 4-5-6-7-8-nil … it was brutal,” Weston said. “It was never going to be a quick fix.”
Weston credited previous head coach Jen Kessler for putting the program on a solid foundation.
“Jen deserves a big shout out,” Weston said. “She changed the philosophy and brought in a totally different kind of soccer.”
This season, Weston has the Braves doing everything right. In their 11 matches – seven wins – Mandan has scored 25 goals and allowed just 11.
In making a mildly surprisingly run to the state tournament last season, the Braves were good at preventing goals. Scoring enough was a bit of an issue, however.
“Last year we probably conceded the same or less goals than we have this year. We were able to put in a solid structure and an organized formation around that,” Weston said. “But we also didn’t score enough goals. This year we’ve tried to build in an attacking mentality, where we’re able to breakout from goal, and in the back, and we’ve seen some of the fruits of those labors.”
The Braves, who play their final regular season game Tuesday night in Jamestown, have gotten contributions up and down the lineup.
Junior Alonna Allickson has seven goals and three assists from her midfield spot and has proven to be one of the top players in the West Region.
“Her ability to control the ball, pass and move is really good,” Weston said.
Elizabeth Geiger, half of the twin Geiger sisters, has six goals and six assists from her forward position.
Elizabeth’s sister Olivia is one of the top goalkeepers in the state. The Braves have not allowed a goal six times this season.
“It’s not just her shot-stopping, which is very, very good, she can also punt the ball 60 or 70 yards in the air,” Weston said of the power-legged junior, who kicked for the Braves football team in the fall. “She can kick the ball from box to box and that causes the other team a lot of problems. It’s something you rarely see.”
In front of Olivia Geiger, the Braves have a pair of very young center backs who have provided a curtain in eighth-grader Tahrynn Nybakken and freshman Sydni Hoesel.
“They’ve done incredibly well,” Weston said.
There’s youth all over the field for the Braves.
Freshman Sarah Burgum has five goals. Fellow ninth-graders Quinn Carter and Kendal Beckler have multiple points, while sophomore Kylie Osborn has four assists, second-most on the team.
Juniors Ashlee Newman (2 goals) and Elizabeth Goodheart, sophomore Chloe Beck and freshman Sophia McLeish also have registered points.
“Everyone has been chipping in,” Weston said. “It’s not falling on the shoulders of just one or two people.”
If the Braves win in Jamestown tonight, they’ll finish the regular season on 25 points. Bismarck (9-1, 27) has already clinched a top 2 finish. Minot (6-2-1) could also get to 25 points and would hold the tiebreaker on Mandan due to goal differential.
Weston said the Braves aren’t looking past the Blue Jays.
“We’re trying to not look too far ahead. We want to stay grounded,” the coach said. “You don’t want to get too big for yourself. Stay focused on the next game and work on the things we need to improve on.
"We have high expectations for our team and the girls so far have done really, really well.”