By Bob San
Last season, the Maple Grove girls’ soccer team came within seven minutes of making the program’s first state tournament. But the Crimson lost the 2-1 late lead to Centennial and the Cougars won the game and section championship in overtime 3-2. Centennial went on to win the state title.
That close brush with state will serve as extra motivation for the 2017 Maple Grove squad. The Crimson certainly have the experience, talent and depth to reach that goal.
“We return most of the high impact players to our team, specifically with senior captain and midfielder Meredith Haakenson, the 2016 Gatorade Player of the Year,” said Maple Grove coach Ben LeVahn. “We graduated only four seniors off last year’s roster that was beating state champ Centennial 2-1 with minutes left in the section final.”
Haakenson, a three-time all-state, all-conference and all-metro standout, leads the team with fellow captains Shelby Handberg and Emma Traivs. Travis tore her ALC this spring and will be out for the season.
“Emma is still a part of the team and doing a great job of leadership as a captain in a different way,” LeVahn said.
The captains lead a talented group of returning starters. They include junior all-conference center defender Maddi Rayta, junior all-conference outside midfielder Mia Omar (Florida International recruit), junior all-conference forward Mannon McMahon (UMD hockey recruit), senior center midfield Zyah Alam (University of North Dakota recruit) and junior outside midfielder Lexi Miller (University of North Dakota recruit).
“We have players all over the field who can contribute in big ways,” LeVahn said. “The players new to the team look like they’ll be able to contribute early as well.”
Maple Grove’s lone question mark is at goaltender. If they can find a steady hand in the net, the Crimson will be hard to beat.
LeVahn and the Crimson know they are good and they don’t hide their desire to break through to the program’s first state tournament.
‘We definitely have high expectations,” said Haakenson, a Michigan recruit. “I think we all have set the goal we want. We have a great group of girls. I could not have asked for a better team for my senior year. I think this is one of the best teams to come through Maple Grove.”
“We expect to make a run at a conference championship and the section championship, with expectations of going further after that,” LeVan said. “We feel we have a pretty special group to go around a special player like Meredith. We are again going to be a high scoring team; we averaged 3.5 goals per game and our top three scorers return. Our team defense was good, giving up .75 gpg.”
But the Crimson do face one major hurdle in their path to state — Centennial. The Cougars have knocked off Maple Grove in the section final two straight years and will again be in the same conference and section as Maple Grove this fall. But the Crimson look forward to the challenge of taking on the defending state champ.
“Centennial is a great team. It was an awesome section game, one of the favorite games I’ve ever played in,” Haakenson said. “But it definitely motivated all of us even in off season to work harder, smarter and faster. So we are definitely excited to see them again. They are a great team so it will be a great game again. I am very excited.”
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