The Maple Grove boys’ soccer team took second place in Section 5AA play, losing a hard-fought battle for the championship 2-0 to Brooklyn Park’s Prairie Seeds Academy Oct. 15.
The Crimson went into the match on a cold and rainy night hoping to continue their six-game winning streak in the competition that determines who advances to the state tournament. They held off Prairie Seeds during the first half, with defenders Ali Kowsari, Johnathon Piotraschke, Vladimir Maltsev, Sam Gardner and Ryan Petersen working together to shut down PSA’s impressive passing game before the attackers reached dangerous territory. Goalkeeper Ben Nelson punched out an attempt off a corner kick five minutes into the game, PSA’s best effort in the half, with a follow up cleared by Kowsari. The Lycans had three shots on goal during the half versus two for Maple Grove.
Eight minutes into the second half Nelson saved a rocket from PSA. The Lycans converted on the ensuing corner kick. A free kick for PSA with five minutes left in the game was saved by Nelson and bounced forward. A Prairie Seeds forward followed up on the attempt and put it in the back of the net.
“They were a tall task, and we knew that going in,’’ said coach Gregg Leininger. “The game plan was right, the guys executed it right. They got one on a corner kick, and we haven’t given up a corner kick goal since the Armstrong game in late August. It was frustrating in the sense that the guys did what they needed to do, and we still came up short.”
There was no conflict or controversy off the pitch, though Maple Grove police were on site in case of an altercation. Prairie Seeds was disqualified from the Class 1A boys’ state tournament last year after a fight following the Section 5A championship. A subsequent investigation found the Lycans used an ineligible player during the 2012 season. The history didn’t affect the 2013 championship game.
“At the end of the day, it was two good teams going at each other,” Leininger said. “Yeah, it was physical. Both teams stood up to each other. The players played the game and didn’t let that noise get in the way.”
The young Maple Grove team exceeded early expectations. With only five seniors, Leininger and coach Chad Morse predicted they would get some goals during the season and have several areas of concern. It became apparent relatively early in the season that the pieces were falling into place, and there was enough talent to build a team that could compete with rivals across the state.
“A lot of guys stepped up,” Leininger said. “Nelson in net. Our defense. Different people found ways to score. We knew in the first part of the season we had a chance, and it kept coming together. We kept finding success.”
The team finished the regular season ranked first in the section, with an 11-4-1 record. A dozen different players scored the team’s 35 goals, with assists coming from every position.
“When you have a team that can get points from a lot of different places you know you’re in good shape,” Leininger said. “We’re a hard team to mark That’s always a sign of a good team and a good season.”
Captain Kevin Hoof, a junior, was selected to the Coaches Association All State Honorable Mention Team, an honor reserved for the best players in the state.
There will be twists in store for next year, when three additional teams will be added to the Northwest Suburban Conference. With a 14-team conference, the Crimson will have few outside games. Most of the Maple Grove players will be returning, though there will be tough competition for each spot on the field.
“It will be tough with the new conference,” Leininger said. “We’ll have to get to work and show what we can do.”
Seniors Johnathon Piotraschke, Tyler Van Dyke, Ted Janka, Michal Berratt and Victor Gonzalez will be missed, Leininger said.
“Chad and I were impressed with the level of commitment from our seniors, whether it was playing on the back line or coming off the bench,” he said. “They did their jobs. It’s hard to look those guys in the eye after the last game and know that’s it. But we appreciate all the hard work they gave us. Overall, it was a successful season. Hoof and Captain Trevor Gifft kept the players focused on the task at hand. There weren’t any egos. There weren’t any issues. It was a bunch of guys working hard at a common goal. It’s always what you want, but it’s not always what you get.”