Male Area Athlete of the Week: Loukinen’s game-winner gives Flyers home field in sections
With less than six minutes to go against Minnewaska, Flyers senior captain Alex Loukinen attempted a free kick from just outside the box.
As he lined up his attempt, he noticed the Minnewaska goalkeeper out of position. The midfielder — who Flyers’ head coach Chris Backhaus says has the best foot on the team — seized the opportunity and buried the ball in the back of the net to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead.
“He’s got a heck of a kick,” Backhaus said. “Most of his goals this season have come off of free kicks in that 35-40 yard range.”
The goal proved to be enough as Little Falls would go on to beat Minnewaska 2-1 and improve their record 6-4. The victory proved more important in section seeding as it guaranteed the Flyers will host the first round of Section 8-1A playoffs.
“It was a good feeling because we should’ve beat them,” Loukinen said. “It just felt good to put the game away.”
The Flyers secured the No. 4 seed for Section 8-1A and will host No. 5 Sartell 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 11.
“That was as about as big of a play as we could’ve asked for from one of our seniors,” Backhaus said. “I couldn’t be more proud of Alex. His conduct on and off the field is above reproach which is something we have been preaching from day one of the season.”
Backhaus said Loukinen is the first to call teammates to check in that have to be out due to quarantine or injury.
“He really displays top-notch leadership and integrity,” Backhaus said. “Having that as a role model for our younger guys and having him consistently show up in that leadership role. He is one of the most enjoyable players I’ve had the opportunity to coach.”
Loukinen’s late-game heroics were seen in the game prior against Melrose.
With under a minute to play and the score tied 1-1, Loukinen took a shot on net that was saved by the Dutchmen goalkeeper.
The rebound fell right on the foot of Flyers’ defenseman Tauer Morrison who scored the game-winner with 21 seconds remaining — Loukinen tallied the assist.
“It’s really fun,” Loukinen said of his late game heroics. “The ball just went into my foot and luckily we finished with both of them.”
Backhaus said Loukinen is one of the more complete players he has coached. He has a powerful shot on offense and quick feet defensively. Where Backhaus thinks Loukinen really impacts the game is in his leadership.
“He sees the entire flow of play and is able to position himself on the field appropriately,” Backhaus said. “He completely owns and controls the center of the field. He is essentially running from box-to-box and he’s the man we attempt to put the ball off of and through to create offensive production.”
One of the ways Loukinen leads is by showing up to practice everyday and working hard.
“I’ve always loved soccer my whole life. It's my favorite sport,” Loukinen said. “Just having the team around you is just one of the biggest things and making connections with friends.”
Loukinen has tallied six goals and six assists on the season.
When it comes to free kicks, Backhaus emphasizes to Loukinen to get the ball down and kick it quickly to try and catch the defense off guard.
“Particularly if the goalkeeper is on the post and trying to direct his defensive wall. We’ve gotten a couple of goals this season off those quick restarts,” Backhaus said. “To get someone who can accurately put the ball in frame consistently from 40 yards out is rare at the high school level.”
Loukinen learned how to develop a bigger shot from his older brother. He told Loukinen to kick the ball on the laces of his cleats to get better precision.
“My brother taught me how to strike it with the laces and that’s what I have been doing for quite awhile,” Loukinen said. “Just right on top of the foot.”
The foundation in the Little Falls boys soccer program is in ball mastery skills and Loukinen excels at that skill.
“He’s by far one of the greatest players that I have been able to coach ever in regards to having mastered ball control,” Backhaus said. “It comes from a lifetime commitment to the game of soccer.”
Loukinen and Backhaus also have a good relationship as coach and player. Backhaus remembers a time earlier this season where Loukinen approached him about tactical strategy changes.
After listening to what Loukinen said, Backhaus said he was thinking the same thing.
“He was very respectful in approaching me and had some very good ideas,” Backhaus said. “I would see him as a future coach someday as well and that’s something that excites me as well.”
Next year, Loukinen will attend North Central University and plans to play soccer. Backhaus played his college soccer at Crown College which is in the same conference as North Central.
“I’ll be a little torn when I go and watch North Central play Crown now because I want to cheer for Alex and Crown at the same time,” Backhaus said.
Other notable performances:
Soccer: Ben Rekstad, Little Falls, tallied six saves in a loss to Zimmerman and four saves in a win over Melrose.
Cross-Country: Emmet Anderson, Staples-Motley won the Perham meet in 15:37.4
School: Little Falls
Highlights: Tallied game-winning goal against Minnewaska and game-winning assist against Melrose