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Orbiting the Opposition: With eight shutouts, Comet boys look forward to test against Crusaders

Published 12:12pm Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Hillcrest Lutheran Academy/Pelican Rapids boys soccer team is 65-0 in scoring against opponents this year. It’s hard to figure out exactly which of those figures is more impressive, the number of goals they’ve scored just over halfway through the season, or that they haven’t let one into the net.

After another shutout on Monday night against Little Falls, the Comets are 7-0-1 on the year, its only game not resulting in a win coming against North Fargo, which was a 0-0 tie.

The team is fast. Its ball handling is dizzying. From hometown players, those of Hispanic heritage to Europeans in America for the first time, the tour de force that is their international game is nothing short of incredible, and just as entertaining to watch.

“I think we have a group of young men who love the game of soccer and they’ve committed themselves to the team and to each other,” said head coach Rod Jensen. “They’ve come together and have taken a lot of pride in the team and their accomplishments.”

But it will all be put to test this Saturday as the Comets travel to face St. Cloud Cathedral, a perennial powerhouse in Section 8 of Class A soccer. The Crusaders handed the Comets two losses last year, one 3-0 defeat in the regular season and a heartbreaking 1-0 loss in its third game of the section tournament.

But while Hillcrest/Pelican Rapids also enjoys a good level of talent each year, its easy to see 2013 is different.

It all starts with the team’s attack that has controlled the ball and, most importantly, put away so many goals. Made up of a commanding front- and midfield, the Comets keep pressure on the opposition’s goal while keeping the ball out of their own zone.

Senior Chris Pellegrino leads the Comet offense on the field and in scoring. Pellegrino has 20 goals on the year, including four hat tricks, three of which have come in the last three games.

But even with all the scoring they’ve done, Pellegrino believes he and the team could do more and will need to on Saturday against Cathedral’s stout defense.

“Offensively we’re doing pretty well, but we need to capitalize more,” Pellegrino said. “When we played Fargo North we had some opportunities that we missed. I personally need to capitalize more too.”

In the backfield, Pellegrino’s co-captians, seniors Edgar Diaz and Quincy Undseth, have offered flexible play across the team’s formation. For both of them, as for the rest of the team, Saturday’s game comes as a measure of where they are as a team.

“The guys are moving well and we’re moving the ball well, but nothing means anything if we don’t beat Cathedral,” Diaz said. “Its a big challenge, but hopefully we can overcome that.”

“They’re always one of the best teams we play all year, so its really exciting to look forward to it,” Undseth said. “Its a good test to see how good we are and what we need to work on for the playoffs.”

From the sidelines, coach Jensen offered an outlook similar to his players. The key for him Saturday will be how well the Comets can keep playing as a team against a tough opponent.

“It will be a great test for us. Cathedral will put ten big, strong, fast athletes on the field. They’re going to pressure the ball and play excellent team defense,” Jensen said. “We’ll see just how well we can move the ball around, attack against that as well as defend against their crosses and big wings coming in at the posts.”

But as Pellegrino has found out with each open attempt or drive down the field his teammates help create, the Comets are a different team this year. Whether it’s how they’ve clicked personally or improved on the defensive end, the approach this year is to run with the Crusaders and attack their front.

“I think we have a completely different situation this year,” Pellegrino said. “Last year we kind of had a defensive mindset going into it and this year it’s maybe a little more of a offensive mindset. We have a strong defense and keeper situation this year too.”

For Jensen, not only has the team’s abilities led to their success and their shot to unseat their rival on Saturday, but also to their place among Comet teams of the past.

“We possess the ball better than any team that I think we’ve ever had,” Jensen said. “We control and maintain possession, and our passing is pretty good.”

With 65 goals and a shutout maintained through the season so far, pretty good seems to be working pretty well for the Comets.

Kickoff for Saturday’s game in St. Cloud is set for 1 p.m.

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