When Matt Millard took over the reins of the Nova Classical Academy girls’ soccer program three years ago, he knew he had a lot of work ahead of him. “We barely survived that first season,” he said.
The Knights didn’t have enough players for a junior varsity team and won just one varsity game that year. Last year, Nova also got off to a rocky start, but had a better second half of the season and finished with six wins. This fall, Millard has 32 girls in the system and the Knights have enough players to compete at the JV level.
“We have some depth now,” he said. “The younger players will be more experienced when they get to the varsity. I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
The Knights are part of a talented local girls’ soccer landscape that includes Minnehaha Academy, the defending Class A champion; Highland Park, which dethroned Central for the Saint Paul City Conference crown last year; and Saint Paul Academy, which lost only twice in 2021.
Here’s a look at the local teams as the girls’ soccer season kicks into high gear:
League: Saint Paul City
Previous record: 8-5-1
Coach: Stefanie Cruz
Key players: senior defender Ada Guetschow, senior midfielders Ruby Lyons and Elsie Jones.
Outlook: This is Cruz’s fourth season coaching her high school alma mater. She has 11 girls who’ve been playing the entire time she’s been the head coach. Accordingly, Cruz thinks the time has come for the Minutemen to have a big season. “It’s been a fun group to work with,” she said. “You can see their confidence grow. It’s an older group of girls who really know what’s going on.” So what might take them to the next level? “Our defense and midfield is solid,” Cruz replied. “We need to finish better and get some goals.”
League: Suburban East
Previous record: 7-7-2
Coach: Megan Schoeberl
Key players: sophomore goalie Alida Ahern, senior midfielder Catherine Novak, senior defender Lauren Bengtson.
Outlook: Going into the season, coach Schoeberl had good reason to be concerned. The Raiders’ top three scorers from last season graduated. The good news was Ahern, a superb goaltender, returned and the Raiders recorded three shutouts in their first five games. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised so far,” Schoeberl said. “The juniors and seniors have stepped up quite a bit and are leading the way.” Schoeberl emphasizes defensive play and singled out Bengtson as a standout on the back wall in the first third of the season. The test now comes with a rugged Suburban East Conference slate.
League: Saint Paul City
Previous record: 6-7-2
Coach: Chris Steenberg
Key players: senior midfielder Gabby Carrillo-Quinones, senior defender Clara Paleen, junior defender Ava Arredondo.
Outlook: With a solid returning cast, the defending Saint Paul City Conference champs are hoping for big things this fall. Accordingly, the team’s nonconference schedule is a demanding one. Carrillo-Quinones is a four-year starter who controls the action in the midfield. “We want to be more of a possession-based team this year. We don’t want to force things,” coach Steenberg said. “The kids have a high soccer IQ and are adapting well to what we want to do.”
League: Independent Metro Athletic
Previous record: 16-2-2
Coach: Bryan Hollaway
Key players: junior forwards Greta Carlson and Berit Parten, junior defender Charlotte Wold.
Outlook: The defending Class A champs enter 2022 with the goal of winning the regular-season championship in the competitive IMAC. That didn’t happen last year, but the Redhawks made up for it by winning their last nine games in a row, finishing with a 4-2 win over conference champ Breck for the state crown. Minnehaha has come out of the gate gunning this year, scoring 18 goals in its first four games. Wold alone netted five goals in a 6-4 win over Providence Academy on September 6. “We should be very good on offense this year,” coach Hollaway said. Minnehaha will also need to defend well to repeat last year’s success. Hollaway praised Wold for defensive excellence down the stretch in the win at Providence. “We don’t get this win without her,” he said.
Previous record: 6-12
Coach: Matt Millard
Key players: junior forward Deme Williamson, junior goalie Emma Peklo, senior midfielder Ava Jane Lynch.
Outlook: As the numbers improve, so does Nova’s record. The Knights broke from the gate fast, winning their first three games, scoring 14 goals in the process. With just two seniors and two juniors on the roster, coach Millard is enthusiastic about where the program is headed. “We have a very talented freshman class,” he said. “They have a lot of speed.” The early wins drew attention around the campus. “When you start to win games, it brings others around who want to take part,” Millard said. “It’s cool to see.”
Saint Paul Academy
League: Independent Metro Athletic
Previous record: 14-2-1
Coach: Aileen Guiney
Key players: sophomore forward Sawyer Bollinger-Danielson, senior defender Heidi Deuel, freshman forward Clare Ryan Bradley.
Outlook: Guiney, who played in the Big 10 at Northwestern and was an assistant coach for a time at Michigan, is in her first year as head coach at SPA. She inherited a solid returning crew that includes seven seniors who play regularly and two goalies who spar for time in the nets. She describes the latter situation this way: “For a coach to have that is like Christmas.” Bollinger-Danielson scored a pair of goals in the season opening 3-1 win over South Saint Paul. “I’m impressed with our work ethic,” Guiney said. SPA has allowed just one goal in its first three games. A key test comes on September 13 when the Spartans head to Minnehaha Academy, which beat them in last year’s section semifinals.
League: Metro East
Previous record: 8-8-2
Coach: Jay Miller
Key players: senior goalie Sydney Potter, senior midfielder Sarah Wagner, senior defender Julia Taurenskas.
Outlook: Although coach Miller is in his first year with the Warriors, he was aware of the team’s skill set. He had been on the receiving end of things the past eight years at Visitation. “What I didn’t know was how much depth is here,” he said. “We have a lot of kids who can play several positions.” Potter has been a starter in goal since seventh grade and Wagner has been a teammate of hers the entire time. Taurenskas is a versatile player who often moves to midfield. The Warriors have rugged terrain to handle. Their conference and section are loaded with good teams. To succeed against them, Miller said, “We’ll look to control possessions.” With a 3-1 start, this is a team to watch as the year goes on.
Previous record: 11-7-1
Coach: Mikki Denney Wright
Key players: senior midfielders Lucy Petschel and Kazi Hankee, sophomore forward Abbey Farley.
Outlook: With just three returning players with varsity experience, coach Denney Wright freely admits the Blazers will be a work in progress this fall. She is, however, excited to see how the team improves. “They’re a very coachable bunch,” she said. “They’re young and hungry.” Petschel has started strong with four goals in the team’s first three games. Unafraid of a challenge, Denny Wright stepped up the nonconference slate with games against larger schools with big reputations. A 3-3 tie with last year’s Class AA runner-up Benilde-Saint Margaret’s suggests the Blazers may be ready to move up the ladder.
— Dave Wright
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