When you combine a coach with a vision and a group of players who are dedicated to a program, good things happen. Good things like having an undefeated season and advancing deep into the playoffs. The Cotter girls’ soccer team is currently 17-0 overall and were 10-0 in conference. They are back to back Three Rivers Conference champions and they are poised to make a run deep into the postseason after a section semifinal victory over Byron High School. They will face Rochester Lourdes in the Section 1A final on Thursday, October 17, at 7:30 p.m. at Paul Giel Field.
Head coach Marie Barrientos has been at the helm of these lady Ramblers since 2010. Back then the Ramblers could barely field two teams and their record was well below .500. With hard work, past and present players who believe in the process, great team chemistry, and a coach who holds her players to the highest standards, the program has continued to improve and has had winning seasons the last four years. When asked what has changed within her program, coach Barrientos said, “We had a reactionary approach to how other teams played. We just tried to hang close in games. Over the past few years we have really tried to adopt the mentality of defining who we are and putting our game on the field. We want other teams to react to who we are.” Prior to each game, coach Barrientos writes a motivational message on the white board in the team room. The players then all sign their name to the board. “This is our ‘be present’ moment,” said coach Barrientos, “It is time to show up and play our game.”
It seems to be working. In 2018, the Ramblers were undefeated in conference for the first in program history. That season, coach Barrientos’ Ramblers had monumental victories over Dover-Eyota and La Crescent. Last season’s victories over the Eagles and Lancers were the first in coach Barrientos’ coaching tenure after coming close in 2017 when the team tied Dover-Eyota twice and La Crescent once.
For coach Barrientos, the most prominent measurements of her team’s consistent improvement is the goals for/goals against ratio and the team’s number of shutouts. “Only giving up four goals in seventeen games is a testament to our defense. Our team owns the mentality ‘defend to attack.’ That shift in mindset has really turned our program around,” coach Barrientos stated. Back in 2010, the team scored 38 goals while giving up 43 goals with only one shutout, and as of this article, the team has scored 76 goals and given up only four with thirteen shutouts. “I believe what makes us tough to defend is we are incredibly balanced and it is hard to find a hole in our lineup. Each player in the starting lineup, except for our goalie (Tess Mullen) has at least one goal,” she said.
Previously, the Ramblers always looked to one player each season to carry the team offensively. This team, however, has multiple scoring threats on offense in Olivia Gardner, Sera Speltz, Mary Morgan, and Allyssa Williams, but Jordan Rubie and Megan Morgan are also known to put a few in the net from their defender positions. Rubie said, “We have all of our defenders returning from last season when we were undefeated in conference and should have made a run in playoffs. We knew our defense would be strong again. This year, we knew would be able to be more on the offensive. In previous seasons, we just tried to not let the other team score. This season we are so well balanced offensively and defensively. We aren’t just trying to stop the other team from scoring. We have the ability to score and attack. ”
Another piece of the puzzle that coach Barrientos credits for her team’s success is the overall growth of soccer in Winona. Most of the players on this team have been playing club soccer together for several years before entering Cotter. Coach Barrientos said the benefit is that “kids are coming into our program already knowing the game. That is evidence that our youth programs are working. The more experienced players are able to coach the less experienced players in practices.” When watching the Junior Varsity and C-Squad teams compete, fans can already see the younger players attempting to implement the same strategies and team tactics that can be seen on the varsity field.
The other added benefit that the Ramblers see from club soccer is that the players are learning to play many different positions which allows coach Barrientos to move players around and give opponents different looks. Mary Morgan is one of those players. So far this season she has played center midfield, center forward, outside forward, and center and outside defense. She said, “At the end of the day, it comes down to how we can get the job done. For us, it doesn’t matter where people are placed on the field. The most important aspect is that the team is successful.” That team-first mentality has carried the Ramblers this far.
In Cotter soccer history, there may not be a more talented and decorated group than the sophomore class. Over half of this powerful starting lineup is in 10th grade. This class includes All-State players Speltz and Gardner, All-Conference selections Tess Mullen, Megan Morgan and Megan Costello, and teammate Amaiya Kauphusman. Megan Morgan, a starting defender, said, “Some of us have been playing together since 1st grade. We’ve not only grown up together as friends, but also teammates. On the field, I know how each one of them plays almost as well as I know myself, and it obvious that we have a unique bond.” Two of those seasons, the summers before 5th and 6th, were under the direction of coach Barrientos. She said, “That first summer, I knew that this group was something special.” Mullen agreed, “We’ve been playing together for almost ten years. The chemistry between us is like no other.”
Coach Barrientos also credits seniors Rubie and Mary Morgan for raising the level of expectation and creating a culture of excellence. “They started for us in 2015 as eighth graders. Their first season we were 3-11-3. That was a really pivotal season for Mary and Jordan. They saw what it took to be the best. Their gritty, dig deep, passionate play is what feeds this team,” she said.
The theme for this season is “Attack the Process.” The captains, Rubie, Mary Morgan and Maren Stewart, chose this theme which has defined the Ramblers season. Mary Morgan explained, “Each player is a significant part of the process. We each have our roles. If each player fulfills their role, and we attack and understand the process together, the team as a whole will be successful.” Her younger sister, Megan, agreed. “We have high expectations for each other because we know what our team is capable of accomplishing.” Be on the offensive. Don’t back down. Never give up.
So far, it has rocketed the Ramblers to a 17-0 season and one game away from their first ever state tournament berth. The Ramblers took down their section championship opponent 4-0 earlier this season, but do not let the score fool you. Rochester Lourdes, the two-time defending Section 1A champion, is 14-3-1 and features one of the best players in the state, senior Alyssa Ustby. The Ramblers are ready though. This will be a rematch for the ages.