by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The Zimmerman Thunder capped off a late-season surge in conference play by defeating Little Falls 2-1 at home on Tuesday evening.
Goals by Maddie Jacob and Camilla Johansson and continued stout defense extended the Thunder’s unbeaten string to six (five wins and a tie), a record for the 10-year-old program.
The Thunder finished 5-1-2 in the Granite Ridge Conference. St. Cloud Cathedral is 5-1-1 with St. John’s Prep left, and Little Falls is 4-2-1 with Becker left. The conference has five teams. Becker has one win and SJP has none.
“This is our best conference showing, with only one loss in the eight games,” said coach Jeff Downing. “The two ties may be enough to keep us from being champs, but it was a great improvement over previous years.”
The Thunder’s lone conference loss was against Cathedral 4-0 on Sept. 5. They tied the Crusaders 2-2 in the rematch Sept.24.
Against Little Falls, Jacob scored in the fourth minute, assisted by Amanda Sahr. Little Falls’ Marissa Virnig tied it two minutes later with an unassisted goal. Johansson regained the lead for Zimmerman in the 29th minute with Brooke Salo assisting.
Both teams had a flurry of shots in the first 10 minutes, both eager to win the season series (they tied 1-1 earlier) and earn a mathematical chance to overtake Cathedral.
The Thunder win clinched at least second place, and solidifies their chance for a good section seed.
“The game was hard fought and physical,” said Downing, “but came down to our ability to run down their through ball attacks.”
Zimmerman denied attacks up the middle with a defense effort led by Raina Watson. Goalkeeper Justine Charles made a few big saves after one costly mistake. Virnig’s goal was a high cross which Charles tried to push around the near post but deflected it into the net.
In their six-game unbeaten streak, the Thunder have allowed just five goals, after yielding 21 goals in the first nine games when they were 3-5-1.
They had a setback the first day of the season when defensive anchor Molly Kieliszewski suffered a knee injury during their Sandbur Cup tournament.
“I am extremely pleased with how the girls have come together to make a solid defense in the absence of their anchor,” said the coach. “It took a while to build what we have, but it just keeps getting better.”
The team has devoted some specific training time to Charles to help her improve her reaction time and foot-speed getting off the line, which seems to be working, Downing said.
The Thunder (8-5-2 overall) will host Cristo Rey Jesuit on Thursday, 7 p.m., to close the regular season. They’ll start sectionals on Tuesday.