FOUR SCHOOLS FIGHT AS ONE: Crusaders survive scare from Maranatha in thriller

MAYER – Brady Harnung has seen some big moments throughout his high school career.

He’s seen the Mayer Lutheran volleyball team reach the state tournament three years in a row. He saw Cole Hagen drain a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Springfield in the Section 2A title game to send the Crusaders to state. Now, it was his turn for his moment.

After coming up with a clutch save in the fifth round of penalty kicks, Harnung had a chance to be the hero. He didn’t let that opportunity slip away.

Harnung went low and left with his kick, sneaking it past the outstretched arms of Marantha’s Avery Warren to give Mayer Lutheran/Watertown-Mayer a 5-4 thrilling win in a shootout in the first round of the Section 6A tournament.

“Heart and soul,” Mayer Lutheran coach Matt Polding said. “He’s the heart and soul. He is the heart and soul of that team. You can’t make it up. That kid, and all of our seniors, we’re nowhere without them.”

After 40 minutes of play, it looked as if the Crusaders wouldn’t even have a chance to win the game as they struggled from the start. Maranatha grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first half, forcing the Crusaders to rethink things during the break.

“I think it made us realize a lot,” senior Brady Wachholz said. “It made us realize that we can’t just walk through this. We need to work. They’re the underdogs. They weren’t expected to win this game. They can throw it all on the line, and that’s what they did. I think that really hit us and we just weren’t prepared.”

The Crusaders, the No. 4 seed in Section 6A, rallied to tie the game at two in the second half thanks to a pair of goals.

“They decided at halftime to come out and give everything they’ve got,” Polding said. “That team (Maranatha) is a great team. They battled so hard. Maranatha is the classiest team we play. Without question. If we ever had a game like that, I’m glad it was with them. Our kids just decided they wanted to win. I don’t know how else to say it. It’s all them. It’s always been about them.”

As the clock hit zeros at the end of the second overtime, Harnung knew his high school career, and his team’s season for that matter, would come down to him in net. Before stepping in goal to defend five shots by Maranatha, Harnung got some words of advice from his older brother TJ, an assistant coach for the Crusaders. In a brotherly embrace on the sidelines, TJ simply told to seize the moment.

“We did multiple prayers before,” Harnung said with a laugh. “He just said be composed and focus. If you let one in, it’s on to the next one.”

It was good advice for the senior goalkeeper as Marantha found the back of the net on two of their first three shots. Harnung answered back with back-to-back saves on the final two shots for the Mustangs, giving the Crusaders a chance to win it on their final kick.

“I knew I wanted to take a kick,” Harnung said. “I didn’t know coach would put me at five, but that worked out perfectly. I said a prayer before. I saved three, which was enough. Then I finished it. It was crazy.”

Harnung’s game-winner completed the comeback for the Crusaders, a team that has grown over the years into one of the top teams in Section 6A this year.

“That’s my first four-year group of kids,” Polding said. “I’ve seen them grow from ninth grade until now. I couldn’t be more proud of them. They’re just tremendous. I couldn’t be more blessed to have better kids. They are the best.”

It was an eye opener for the Crusaders, who have high aspirations this season. Despite getting the win against the No. 14 seed, they know they need to play better, especially from the start.

“There’s nothing more true than that, Polding said. “There is nobody, especially in our section, that you can overlook. You just can’t do it. There’s too many good teams. Any given night, a kid goes off and your season is over.”

“As coach says, all that matters is 1-0,” Wachholz added. “It doesn’t matter how you get it. You just have to keep on going. Honestly, it wasn’t our best game, but we’ll move on to Thursday.”

The Crusaders will advance to play SW Christian Thursday night at home in the Section 6A quarterfinals. After surviving a scare against Maranatha in the first round, they’ll be looking to get back to the team they were all season, which is a family.

“I’ve been here for five years,” Wachholz said. “This is something I’ve never seen before. Even off the field, we’re just such good friends. That’s something we’ve never seen before with all four schools. You can’t even tell we’re four schools. We just know where we’re going to be. We know what we’re going to do. We know what we expect out of each other. It’s beautiful and it works.”

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