Boys earn top-seed, will open with Blaine Oct. 25
Knowing the shape the Section 5AA boys soccer tournament would likely take on, Champlin Park head coach Gavin Pugh headed to Mounds View for a last chance to scout two possible playoff opponents Oct. 6.
By then, the Rebels had already wrapped up their regular season two days prior after storming back to beat Blaine, capping both an undefeated season and a Northwest Suburban Conference championship with second-half sabotage of the host Bengals that produced all of Champlin Park’s offense in what was a 5-3 victory.
Two days later, with the players enjoying a rare Saturday off, the coaching staff went to watch Spring Lake Park play at Mounds View, which offered them an opportunity to see both clubs one last time, and maybe even offer what would be a season-altering observation.
Who could have possibly known?
“That is why you scout,” said Pugh, who picked up on a tendency Mounds View’s Ryan Elvidge used during a penalty kick attempt that day. “You never know what you are going to take out of it.”
As the postseason wore on, it was Champlin Park getting a fourth trip to the Class AA state tournament out of it.
The Rebels ended up meeting Mounds View in the Section 5AA final Oct. 16, and after 100 minutes of scoreless soccer, the two teams headed into a shootout, and directly into Pugh’s scouting book.
“Right before the shootout, I went up to Gavin and asked him to remind who it was,” said Champlin Park junior goalkeeper Alex Leabo. “He said [Elvidge] would go right, so I just trusted my coach.”
Pugh’s assumption would be accurate. After each team scored on its first two attempts, Elvidge’s shot went low and to his right. Leabo was all over it. The Rebels then look a 3-2 advantage when Sydney McLain made good on his try, the Mustangs followed with a shot off the bar, giving Jake O’Brien the chance to end it.
The senior buried his attempt, and jubilation followed.
“When they missed those two, we were pumped,” said O’Brien. “All I had to do was make sure I didn’t miss. There really wasn’t as much pressure as you would think. Our team is so supportive, and we’ve spent a lot of time practicing our penalty kids for this exact situation. I was calm, and that made it a lot easier.”
Not much else came easy for Champlin Park throughout the final. The Rebels had relied on their prolific front line much of the fall, building a 15-0-1 record with an offense that had averaged nearly three goals per game leading up to the section final.
But Mounds View sold out on the defensive end, spending most of the game with at least 10 bodies behind the ball.
The philosophy did little to generate much of a threat offensively, but it slowed Champlin Park and eventually got the two teams into a shootout after 80 scoreless minutes of regulation play was followed by another 20 minutes of sudden-death overtime without a goal.
The Mustangs were the first to go in the shootout, but each of their two goals at the start were matched by Rebel goals from Ramadan Hassan and then Andrew Gardner.
Leabo used his team’s advanced scouting to get an edge on Elvidge’s try, and the rest is now firmly cemented into Champlin Park boys soccer history.
“It was really about keeping our mind straight, because we knew it was going to be a tough one,” said Pugh. “There was a lot of excitement pre-game. The boys really wanted this one. They had to play a little longer to get it, but they were rewarded in the end.”
Top-seed is reward
A few days after dispatching of Mounds View, the Rebels learned precisely what the award was.
Champlin Park was named the No. 1 seed in the eight-team Class AA boys state soccer tournament.
As a result the team will open the state tournament with by facing Section 7 champion Blaine at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25 at Park High School in Cottage Grove.
The Bengals (14-3-1) defeated Coon Rapids 6-2 to qualify for the tournament, and will enter the game just three weeks removed from taking a 2-0 halftime lead over Champlin Park.
Of course, later the Rebels roared back in the second half and eventually won 5-3.
That was game No. 14 this fall for Champlin Park, and after the clincher against Mounds View last week in game No. 17, the vow was the game-by-game approach needed to get this far would have to continue at state.
“They’ve always had the state tournament in the back of their mind, as a goal, but we’ve stressed that we have to go game by game,” Pugh said. “We’ll deal with each team as we see them. We are not in a rush to get past teams. We can’t jump forward. It has to be one game at a time.”