Winona Cotter’s wounded girls soccer team isn’t so wounded anymore.

That takes it from excellent to something closer to lethal.

The Ramblers’ maiden trip to the state soccer tournament has the real possibility of being a championship one, good health in mind.

“The biggest difference for us right now is our health,” said Cotter coach Maria Barrientos whose team opens the Class A event at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, her No. 3-seeded Rambers playing unseeded St. Cloud Cathedral in Monticello. “We headed into the playoffs with the healthiest and strongest team we’ve had this year. That raises our level.”

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The wait for state finally ends for Cotter

Cotter's All-State scoring-machine Gardner has it all on the soccer field

Cotter’s level was plenty high even with key players Sera Speltz (All-State midfielder), Megan Costello (center back), Anna Modjeski (outside back) and Esme Bradvik (defender) missing considerable action due to varying injuries.

The Ramblers roared through the regular season with a 13-1-2 record, their only loss 2-1 to top-10 ranked Lourdes.

As well as Cotter played then, Barrientos says it has notched things up even more since. She expects that to continue at state as all of her players are now healthy and available.

Winona Cotter’s Coco Costello (9) is introduced during a Section 1A girls soccer championship match against Dover-Eyota on Tuesday at Rochester Community and Technical College. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Winona Cotter’s Coco Costello (9) is introduced during a Section 1A girls soccer championship match against Dover-Eyota on Tuesday at Rochester Community and Technical College. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

The Ramblers enter as a team that scores in droves, averaging nearly six goals per game.

The leader of that barrage is Olivia Gardner, Cotter’s All-State forward.

The senior, who blends sprinter's speed with great ball skills and feel, has scored an almost unheard of 43 goals this season. Gardner scored both Cotter’s goals in its 2-0 Section 1A championship win over Dover-Eyota.

But the beauty of Cotter is that Gardner is anything but a one-player show. There are star players all around her, with junior Allyssa Williams a heck of a second fiddle with her 25 goals and state-leading 31 assists.

“Allyssa’s touch on the ball is remarkable,” Barrientos said. “Her ability to play the ball 30 yards onto someones foot, or see a hole before a hole happens, is so impressive. She’s got such a soft foot. She’s only about 5-foot-2, but she plays so much bigger than that.”

Stars galore

Then there’s such weaponry as Ava Killian (15 goals, six assists) and also Speltz. Speltz doesn’t possess nearly the statistics that Gardner, Williams and Killian do, but the senior former All-State player missed most of the season with a quadriceps injury, yet has still managed eight goals land six assists.

That variety on offense for Cotter, as well as a Ramblers defense that is allowing a minuscule .4 goals per game, makes this team special.

“We are so well-round with our players and all of the tools we have in our tool belt,” Barrientos said. “Years ago, we might have one person that defenses had to mark, and if they did that, you’d beat us. But if you take just one of our players away now, we have three or four others who can hurt you.”

So, the talent and the depth all seem in place for Cotter. Now, it is a matter of the Ramblers playing up to their abilities. Barrientos is preaching the proper mindset to make that happen.

She wants her players to remember this is a game and something to play with smiles on their faces

“The key at state, I think, is just staying in the moment,” Barrientos said. “Just enjoying the game and enjoying being on the field. When our players have fun, they play well.”