A goal in the final two minutes prevented Brandon Neifert from gaining yet another shutout.
But the victory was well in hand as Neifert and the Brainerd Warriors boys soccer team survived the No. 6 Osseo Orioles 2-1 in a Section 8-2A quarterfinal game Friday, Oct. 16.
Neifert finished with two saves, including a key save in the second half that kept the score 0-0. The victory propelled the Warriors to the Section 8-2A semifinal game in Moorhead Wednesday, Oct. 21.
“I just take it one game at a time and try to say, ‘no goals this game,’” Neifert said. “Every game I say no goals. If it happens it happens and I just move on to the next game.”
Brainerd owns a 9-0-2 record. Neifert has only allowed more than one goal once this season. That was a 2-2 tie with Moorhead to end the regular season. In Brainerd’s 10 other games, Neifert collected seven shutouts.
In the Moorhead tie, Neifert finished with 11 saves as the Spuds outshot Brainerd 13-12.
“I know every goal that has been scored on me, what I could have done differently; how I could have communicated better,” Neifert said. “But I would say, my short-term memory is pretty good.
“Usually when I give up a goal it’s a communication breakdown. You can say it’s lucky, but you can go so far out, maybe even three passes up, I could have said, ‘press on to this person’ and that could have prevented the whole thing.”
Neifert corralled one save in the Warriors 2-0 victory over Alexandria Oct. 8. It was Brainerd’s first game back from a two-week stop in action because of a COVID-19 cluster. It was Brainerd’s third-straight victory and Neifert’s second-straight shutout.
“It feels really good to get shutouts, but ultimately you just move on to the next game and refocus on keeping the shutout for that one,” Neifert said.
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Despite low save numbers, Neifert is active the entire game. He’s yelling out directions to his defense and helping his teammates find openings in the field. His ability to see the entire field from his vantage point is an asset.
It’s a view he didn’t get to see a lot of last year behind Jude Hiltner. Coming into this season, Warrior head coach Tom Grausam had little doubt Neifert would slide in perfectly.
“Just his growth that he gained from his junior year,” Grausam said. “We had a tryout and it was between him and Jude and they were neck and neck. Jude got it just because he was a bit stronger, but we knew Brandon would have been great to have in net last year.
“He’s smart. He’s always relaxed and his confidence is so high. You can just see it.”
Last season, Neifert finished with four saves on seven shots on goal.
This season, Neifert has only allowed five goals, but he’s quick to credit the veteran defense in front of him, but Grausam called Neifert a conductor with how he moves his teammates where he wants them. He also called him the silly captain.
“I am pretty silly,” Neifert said. “I think that I have a kind of a game day character and a practice character. I’m a lot more serious on game day, which doesn’t mean I’m not silly.”
Said Grausam: “We have a quiet captain, a loud captain and a silly captain. He just relaxes the whole team. He’s a silly person who goofs around and has fun. He enjoys participating and being around the guys.”
Grausam couldn’t praise Neifert’s poise in stressful situations enough.
“He reads the player so well,” Grausam said. “On a break away, it’s a 50-50 chance, but he’ll come out and challenge that player. He’s not afraid to take that risk. He has made some outstanding saves and he’s kept us in games. That’s because he believes in himself. The coaching staff believes in him and his teammates believe in him.”
This season, Neifert has only had to face one penalty kick. And of course he saved it.
“You just have to be confident in your ability to save a goal,” Neifert said. “There is a lot of luck involved, but you just have to be confident in your ability and don’t think badly of yourself if something bad happens.”
Other notable performances
Kate Stadum, volleyball, finished with 13 kills and five digs against Sartell. She added 13 digs, six kills and an ace serve against Rocori.
Linsdy Busch, girls tennis, won her No. 4 singles match against Bemidji 6-0, 6-2.
Taylor Ruhl, girls tennis, won her No. 3 singles match against Bemidji 6-3, 6-0.
Catherine Moraghan, girls tennis, won her No. 2 singles match against Bemidji 6-2, 6-2.
Taylor Larson, girls soccer, scored the game-winning goal against Moorhead in Section 8-2A quarterfinals.
Ethan Klisch, boys cross-country, placed 13th to lead the Warriors to third in the Section 8-2A meet.
Madison Genz, volleyball, finished with 14 kills and 14 digs against Rocori.
Cruz Magazzini, boys soccer, scored the game-winning goal over Osseo in the Section 8-2A quarterfinals.
Caden Schoeppner, football, flushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries against St. Cloud Apollo.
Career highlight: Earning All-State at last year’s State Alpine ski meet
Other sports: Alpine skiing
Grade-point average: 3.5
Favorite class: A.P. Psyche
Favorite food: Cheese pizza
Favorite movie: “The Princess Bride”
Favorite TV show: “Breaking Bad”
Favorite website or app: Instagram
Favorite restaurant: Prairie Bay
Future plans: Attend college out west so he can ski
Favorite athlete: Marcel Hirsher
Parents: Peter and Courtney Neifert