Byron girls relishing 'unfamiliar territory'

For the first time in school history, the Byron girls soccer team has qualified for the state tournament. The Bears are thrilled with the opportunity.

Byron’s Emily Anderson cheers in the middle of a huddle before a girls soccer game against John Marshall Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, at Byron Middle School in Byron. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

This is unfamiliar territory for Jeremy Baumach and his Byron girls soccer team.

It’s the kind they’ve forever longed to be in.

On Wednesday, unseeded Byron will be playing in the Class AA state tournament for the first time in school history, taking on No. 2 seed Academy of Holy Angels at 7:30 p.m. in Waconia.


Byron girls break on through to earn state trip Junior Taylor Finney scored a goal with just 1:27 left to lift Byron past Kasson-Mantorville 1-0 in the Section 1AA girls soccer championship game.
“This is unfamiliar territory for me,” said Baumbach, in his eighth year of directing the Bears. “I’ve been to the All-State Banquet. But I think it’s finally going to hit me when the whole team is at the State Tournament Banquet in St. Paul on Sunday night. But right now, we’re just thankful to get another day to participate and have another day together with our team.”


Byron girls celebrate section title.jpg
The Byron team celebrates with the section trophy after winning the Section 1AA girls soccer championship on Tuesday in Albert Lea. The Bears won the title by beating rival Kasson-Mantorville 1-0. Guy N. Limbeck / Post Bulletin.

Baumbach said all of that on Thursday, two days after his team had beaten rival Kasson-Mantorville 1-0 in a thrilling Section 1AA championship game.

It left Byron 13-2-3 and continuing a tear that’s seen it not lose a game since Sept. 18.

Things haven’t always been this way. There’s been a gradual climb since Baumbach took over seven years ago, from .500ish finishes the first couple of years, to landing in the section semifinals or finals the last six seasons.

To finally break through and win a section title — this is what they’ve been craving. And that it happened with this group was especially satisfying.

Baumbach says there’s an unmistakable bond with these girls.

“They embrace the family (aspect) of it,” he said. “It’s how they pick each other up, how they are always mixing with different groups at practices and aren’t always kicking with the same people all the time. They’re happy for each other, and it doesn’t matter who’s in the game or what’s happening, the players on the bench are always happy. They even get the crowd into it, leading cheers.”


As balanced as the Bears are, they do have five all-Hiawatha Valley League players, and they’ve provided an ideal mix of strengths. Here is Baumbach’s take on each:

• Briella Babcock, midfield: “She’s going to be All-State. She plays with both feet and has relentless energy. There aren’t many flaws to her game.”

• Olivia Amundson, forward: “She’s tied with Briella in goals (11) and leads us in assists (11). Olivia is great in tight spaces with the ball.”

• Cassandra Vagt, defense: “Casey has pure speed. Her ability to read things and jump routes is great. If it’s a foot race, she’s going to catch whoever she’s chasing.”

• Paige Halder, forward: “She is a great all-around player. She’s got good speed and vision. Paige has an ability to get around people, get down field and compress the defense.”

• Elizabeth Felty, midfield: “She has an ability to see things and make that next pass — the assist that leads to an assist. She dominates the midfield and makes sure people get in the right spot.”

Pat has been a Post Bulletin sports reporter since 1994. He covers Rochester John Marshall football, as well as a variety of other southeastern Minnesota football teams. Among my other southeastern Minnesota high school beats are girls basketball, boys and girls tennis, boys and girls track and field, high school and American Legion baseball, volleyball, University of Minnesota sports (on occasion) and the Timberwolves (on occasion). Readers can reach Pat at 507-285-7723 or
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