Hilltoppers eliminate Vikings

NB boys soccer ends season on the road

Junior Max Southbloom cuts off an opponent in a game earlier this season.   Photo by Kat Ladwig

Junior Max Southbloom cuts off an opponent in a game earlier this season.
Photo by Kat Ladwig

The North Branch boys soccer team, which earned the No. 13 seed for Section 7AA play, closed its 2013 season last week with a 6-1 loss to fourth-seeded Duluth Marshall on the road.

Scoring for the Vikings in the post-season game was junior Ryan Schaal, his sixth goal of the year, off a scramble in front of the Hilltoppers’ goal.

Head coach Paul Pignato said Duluth Marshall was a solid defensive squad with weapons on offense.

“They play very good corner ball,” Pignato said. “They have some real sharp shooters.”

The Vikings ended the year at 2-13-2, with wins over section opponents Two Harbors and Duluth Denfeld and ties with conference foes Princeton and Big Lake.

Leading in points for North Branch was senior Brett Bergstrom, who had nine goals and six assists. Schaal came in second with nine points off six goals and three assists. Juniors Max Southbloom and Matthew Blomquist each recorded one goals and two assists this season.

In goal, junior Cameron Sampson earned a save percentage of .725 with 132 saves on the season in 1,166 minutes. Junior Newell Fisk marked 22 saves on the year for a .786 save percentage.

Despite a lot of youth on the Viking squad, Pignato said it will be hard to replace the three seniors: Bergstrom, Mike Stephens and Jefferson Meng Moua. While Bergstrom was a main offensive threat for North Branch, both Stephens and Meng Moua were key components on defense.

“Mike Stevens took charge in that full back/sweeper role and will be really hard to replace—he took all of our free kicks and long balls, and there aren’t many people who could beat him,” Pignato said. “The guys called Jefferson a wall. He’s physically very hard to beat around the corner, and we were just happy as heck he was out there with us this year.”

In their first season in the Mississippi Eight Conference, the Vikings finished at 0-8-2. Taking first was Chisago Lakes with a conference record of 8-1, then Rogers at 7-1.

Pignato said, overall, his squad struggled with consistency this season but was held in high regard by opponents throughout the season.

“We’ve got some good players in the system, and we’re still learning,” Pignato said.” But we got the biggest compliment this year with many coaches and refs coming up and saying how we just never quit. No matter the score, we just keep coming and playing hard. That’s an important skill set in life, to keep going, and if we teach them that then we are doing our job.”

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