HIBBING — It’s been an interesting season for Jeffrey Neist.

The Hibbing/Chisholm High School girls soccer coach wasn’t expecting to be a head coach so early in his career, but he got put in that position ahead of schedule.

During the season, Neist and his team had a couple of issues that don’t happen all that often, but through it all, the Bluejackets persevered, and even though they only won two games, they played respectful soccer.

Hibbing/Chisholm can put all of that behind it when the No. 6 seeded Bluejackets travel to No. 3 seeded North Branch for a Section 7AA first-round contest today.

Neist got more than he bargained for during the 2021 season.

“It was definitely interesting,” Niest said with a laugh. “We had our ups-and-downs that most first-year coaches have to deal with, but we have ridden the wave the best we could, given the situations we were put in.

“The girls have been resilient, so that helped. Obviously, we’re in a tough situation, especially given the numbers on the team. They learned a lot this year. It’s been hard on the girls to have had different coaches every year for the past three or four years.”

As far as the Vikings go, North Branch comes into the game with an 11-4-1 mark. They’ve won two-of-their-last-three-games.

“We’re going to assume that they’re as good a team as Cloquet, which is the best team we’ve played this year,” Neist said. “We’ll try to think back as to how that game went. If we can clean a few things up, we can make it a good game. That’s how we’ll prepare for a game like that.”

Aside from that, Neist and his team are going into the game not knowing much about the North Branch.

“Our biggest thing, especially going into it blind, is not to overextend ourselves in the first half,” Neist said. “We’ll sit back and see how they play, and try not to conceded an early goal.

“If we go into halftime 0-0, we’ll tweak some things. I will find weak points and attack those. We can’t concede an early goal. If we can keep it 0-0 for as long as possible, that will be important.”

The Bluejackets did have trouble scoring goals this season, so Neist has done what he can to make Hibbing/Chisholm’s offense more powerful.

“We’re working on getting our outside mids into the play a lot more,” Neist said. “In our past few games, we’ve been able to do that. It’s helped a lot. What it does is alleviate the pressure on defense.

“When they get rid of the ball, it’s not coming directly back at them. We can build off of that more. We’re starting to realize and implement it. Those options are better than just hoping for the best.”

No matter what happens, Neist is proud of the way this team has handled this season.

“They’ve been troopers striking through my first year,” Neist said. “I’m far from perfect when it comes to my ideas. They’ve been going with it, and helping me out. They would suggest things I maybe didn’t think about, so that’s been important.”

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