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Thu, Nov. 14

Mingus girls soccer wins Grand Canyon Region title against Flagstaff

<b>Amanda Randolph</b> fights for the ball against Flagstaff Wednesday on Bright Field. VVN/Sean Morris

<b>Amanda Randolph</b> fights for the ball against Flagstaff Wednesday on Bright Field. VVN/Sean Morris

COTTONWOOD--The Mingus girls soccer team beat rival Flagstaff on Bright Field Wednesday 1-0 to win the Grand Canyon Region title for the third year in a row, and the last time.

It's the last time because next year the GC Region will dissolve because of AIA realignment.

Winning the region any year is special, but because this was the last opportunity it put extra pressure on the ladies to perform and defend the title against a team that was ranked first in the state.

Mingus scored in the first 10 minutes when Torey Braly beat a few girls with her speed and found herself behind the Flagstaff defense on the end line. Her angle was bad for a shot on goal, so she dropped it back to Allyn Backus who was open around the 18.

Backus pulled the trigger with a brilliant one-touch strike perfectly placed out of reach for the Flagstaff keeper's outstretched arms.

"That's how almost all of my goals are scored, from the outside," said Backus. "I can't do what Torey does, just jukes her way down and gets through the defense. Pretty much since I was 10 I've scored a majority of my goals from the outside. It's what works for me."

It was the deciding goal in the game. Flagstaff had a lot of opportunities after Mingus scored, but they couldn't make them count.

There are several major reasons Mingus was able to post a shutout. The first is toughness and physical play. The Eagles controlled the ball more than Mingus, but the Marauders denied them easy advancement of the ball. They played tougher than Flagstaff.

The second major reason is a defensive focus. Most of the game was played on the Mingus side of the field, but that's because Mingus dropped players back to solidify the interior. Mingus defenders played outstanding and Flagstaff had trouble manufacturing legitimate shots on goal.

The third reason is the play of Mingus goalkeeper Courtney Hageman. She made great saves and her defenders could count on her to step up on through balls and anything over the top. She worked harder than any game she's had to all season and it was a thing of beauty. What she was doing is actually really difficult, but she made it look easy.

Two of her saves were jaw-dropping efforts where Flagstaff was certain they were going to score.

On one of those outstanding saves the Flagstaff striker was offside and the Assistant Referee had his flag up, but the Center Referee didn't see it. It would not have counted if Hageman wasn't able to make the amazing play.

It was a total team effort to win the game, but Hageman's play was crucial.

"It was awesome. I felt good about saving shots and catching that one with my hands. My whole team played amazing clearing the ball out," said Hageman. "Our defense is awesome too. It just feels good. We're three-time region champs!"

Braly was held scoreless, but once Mingus had the lead she dropped back into the midfield to help defense.

"Courtney blew my mind tonight. MVP of the game definitely," said Braly. "And Anna is always strong in the defense. We take our defense for granted sometimes when our offense scores a lot of goals, but defense wins these tough games for sure."

Head Coach Buddy Rhodes was very proud of his team.

"Courtney Hageman had the game of a lifetime tonight. I didn't even have time to count up all the saves she made, and a couple of them were just dramatic. Only extremely good goalies can make those kind of saves that she made tonight," said Rhodes. "Our defense has been stellar all year. Flagstaff is a very good team and they're well schooled. We got the first goal and then hung on for our lives."

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