Up until two weeks ago, the high school girls soccer season wasn't exactly going to plan for Jamestown.
Junior captain and defensive midfielder Amaya Mielke characterized the Blue Jays' 1-7-2 start as more disappointing than frustrating, and for good reason. To go along with a pair of draws, Jamestown was 0-for-4 in matches settled by a single goal.
"It wasn't like our team was playing bad," said Mielke, following team practice Monday. "We just weren't getting the outcomes that we wanted."
That all changed beginning May 14. A 4-2 victory over visiting Mandan kicked off a string of four victories in five games and a date with East Region champion Fargo Shanley/Oak Grove in Thursday's state tournament quarterfinals at noon in Jamestown.
Jamestown last appeared at state in 2017 as both a conference champion and undefeated favorite. This year's team won't be carrying that type of target, but its current form suggests the Blue Jays can't be taken lightly, either.
Let's start on offense.
All-state forward Peyton Rudnick has been playing up to snuff all spring, carrying 16 goals and a pair of assists into state. But since defeating the Braves 14 days back, eight of the Jays' 13 goals have been scored by players other than the University of Jamestown women's soccer-bound Rudnick.
Freshman Haley Nelson has scored five of her six goals of 2019, freshman Hannah Murchie has tallied twice and junior Ashlyn Schauer has also found the back of the net. Through Jamestown's first 10 matches of the season, which produced just a single win, Rudnick had outscored her teammates 14-3.
"It's really nice to see other girls scoring, and it takes more pressure (defenders) off of me then I have more chances, too," said Rudnick, the team's only senior. "They've been more comfortable taking shots and risking to shoot, and they've been going in."
How about the defense?
The Jays' back line has been holding up much better since May 14. Jamestown is -15 in goal difference (27-42) on the season, but is +2 (13-11) since topping Mandan on its home field.
Junior goalkeeper Meredith Walker has produced 31 saves for the Jays over the past two weeks.
"We're finishing well, and the other thing that these ladies have done a much better job of is they're using everybody on the field," said JHS head coach Brandi Harty. "Our back line is really understanding when to step, and then when to sit home.
"These girls have the fight that they're never going to give up. Our whole season has been that way. I think that's why we got in, is we just didn't give up."
Even after losing junior left back and captain Megan Albrecht to a season-ending knee injury in a 3-2 loss to Bismarck Century on May 4, the Jays refused to throw in the towel. Jamestown fell to 1-5-2 the day Albrecht went down.
"It's kinda hard sometimes, because we just started winning right when I got (injured). But everyone stepped up and played a lot better," said Albrecht, who's still finding ways to be an important part of the team. "I try to help the younger girls out, because we have two very young wing backs.
"I get in trouble for yelling sometimes."
Jamestown, as would be expected, will face a very tough Shanley/Oak Grove team Thursday at Rotary Soccer Field. The unbeaten Deacons (12-0-2) are a ridiculous +43 in goal difference, having allowed just two goals (45-2) to the opposition all season.
Coached by Lance Hansen, Shanley has played to a 1-0 victory and a 0-0 draw with two-time defending state champion Fargo Davies this season. Davies (12-1-2), the East Region's No. 2 seed, plays Bismarck Century in Thursday's last quarterfinal at 6:45 p.m.
The West Region went 0-4 against the East in last year's state quarterfinals in Bismarck.
"(Shanley's) back line is very, very disciplined," Harty said. "Obviously we have a huge test ahead of us, but I'm excited to see what we can bring them. Our speed of play and (our) attack is really, really good, and so it'd be nice to see what they can handle against it."
Scoring quickly would help. Jamestown has scored in the opening eight minutes in each of its last four victories.
"After we got our first win and we had a taste of how that felt, I think it picked up the whole team's spirit," Mielke said. "We were more comfortable together and we were all working towards a common goal."
Rudnick, a key player on Jamestown's senior-laden 2017 squad that finished sixth at state, plans to lead by drawing on that experience this week.
"I think it's going to be a lot different this year," Rudnick said, "because we know we have to fight the entire 80 minutes."
High School Girls Soccer State Tournament
At Jamestown High School
Fargo Shanley/Oak Grove (12-0-2) vs. Jamestown (5-8-2), noon.
Bismarck High (11-2-0) vs. W.F. Sheyenne (9-2-3), 2:15 p.m.
Minot (10-2-1) vs. West Fargo (7-6-0), 4:30 p.m.
Fargo Davies (12-1-2) vs. Bis. Century (5-6-2), 6:45 p.m.