Sixteen players on the Holy Angels girls soccer team played last year, when they won the Class 2A title.
They know they're good, and they've proved it.
When Totino-Grace unexpectedly tied their Class 2A semifinal game midway through the first half Tuesday, the top-seeded Stars never flinched. They regrouped and reasserted themselves and their attacking style, scoring three unanswered goals to pull away for a 4-1 victory at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"We just had to keep attacking, coming at them in waves," said senior forward Audrey Garton, a first-team Star Tribune All-Metro selection who also was Class 2A's Ms. Soccer. "We just keep going. We don't want just one or two goals. We're trying to score as many as we can."
Counting the goals scored Tuesday against Totino-Grace (9-9-2), Holy Angels has outscored opponents 121-7 while building a 19-1-1 record this season.
"It's the biggest difference in all of my years at Holy Angels," coach Dave Marshak said.
The key? The Stars tout their bond. Who scores doesn't matter. Their second goal Tuesday, scored just before halftime to regain the lead, was a case in point.
Garton sent a precise cross in front of the net with two Holy Angels players in position. Eli Mejia Quintanilla could have lunged for the ball and likely tipped it in, but she let it go. It landed on the foot of fellow forward Ellen Neuharth, who drilled it home.
That play doesn't happen without the teamwork the Stars have built.
"Eli understands the game naturally in a way most other players struggle with," Neuharth said. "Just having the sense to let that go, that's classic Eli."
Benilde-St. Margaret's 7, Winona 1
Her shot is powerful and heavy and can blow past goalkeepers even if they get a hand, sometimes two, on the ball.
Benilde-St. Margaret's senior forward Kiya Gilliand, a Class 2A Ms. Soccer finalist committed to Wisconsin for college, showed off her devastating shot twice in a five-minute span Tuesday, both times turning with the ball at her feet and blasting a howitzer past the Winona goalkeeper. The goals came quickly and decisively early in the second half, helping the Red Knights to a 7-1 victory over Winona.
Gilliand is far from the only mega-talented player on the roster for top-ranked Benilde-St. Margaret's (18-0-3). Senior midfielder Brooklyn Miller is dangerous around the goal and scored three times Tuesday, including the Red Knights' first two goals. Goalkeeper Olivia Olson doubles as one of the top senior girls basketball players in the nation and has committed to play in college for Michigan. Midfielder Lauren Hillins was central to the Red Knights' effort with four assists against Winona (18-2-1).
"Brooklyn scored that second goal for us, and that was big," said Benilde-St. Margaret's coach Scott Helling-Christy. "It kind of took the pressure off of us and we didn't have to chase the game."
Gilliand's two second-half goals set the Red Knights on the path to Friday's championship game against Holy Angels. She said her goals were by design, playing into her preferred style.
"One of my things is I like quick-turning and then have to take someone one-v-one," Gilliand said. "We talked at halftime. That girl was staying on me, so if I can turn and get the shot off, that's what I like to do. That worked out."