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Stillwater high school soccer coach Jake Smothers. ] CARLOS GONZALEZ cgonzalez@startribune.com August 20, 2013, Stillwater, Minn., Stillwater high school prep soccer -

 

Replacing a legend like Phil Johnson isn’t easy. That’s why new Stillwater boys’ soccer coach Jake Smothers isn’t going to overhaul the program.

“We’re not changing the logo. We’re not changing the color or anything,” said Smothers, who was named Johnson’s replacement in January. “It will be a different voice on the sideline.”

The Ponies have been the darlings of the Suburban East Conference and a model program for many schools of the Minnesota State High School League. They made 15 state tournament appearances under Johnson’s watch, including state championships in 1995 and 1996.

“We recognize the tradition and success,” Smothers said. “We also recognize the groundwork that was laid to create that position. It’s about player development. It’s about player continuity. Respect for the game. Respect for each other. Phil’s impact on the game was more than just winning. It’s the impact that he has on the players’ lives. We believe that type of coaching allowed the players to be successful.”

Smothers brings his own pedigree to the pitch. He was the head coach for eight years at Spring Lake Park High School, where he helped build a respectable program.

Smothers has been living and coaching in Stillwater the past six years, just not for the high school team. The Seattle native, who moved to Minnesota for family reasons, has been coaching at various levels in the St. Croix Soccer Club.

As a result, he’s coached many players in the Stillwater High School program. In 2006, Johnson was Smothers’ son’s physical education teacher. The two had a chance to meet in an open house and they have kept in touch over the years.

People were aware in recent years that Johnson would be stepping down from his position, and Smothers was aware of it. He reached out to athletic director Ricky Michel to express his interest.

“Jake comes to our program after having done a very good job developing the Spring Lake Park boys’ program,” Michel said. “He works for the local soccer club and has a good knowledge of players in the area that participate in our high school program. We will definitely miss Phil and his staff that had more than a century of experience, but we hope Jake can continue the success that Phil has had and stamp his own mark on the future of Stillwater soccer.”

Smothers has worked with most of the players on the current roster. There are a lot of new faces on this year’s squad beyond just the coach. The team is young, having lost seven starters from last year’s squad. The initial concern will be the youngsters’ ability to assert themselves as impact players and leaders at the varsity level.

The captains bring both experience and skill to the table. Winger Jared Allen, midfielders Alex Jurcoi and Nathan Purdie, and defender Charlie Farrington will be relied on heavily to lead this year’s team.

Freshman Jake Lagus will be starting on the back end. Sophomore Cole Bardwell will start at striker. Additional freshmen will be coming off the bench to play meaningful minutes as the season progresses.

“The talent is there. We have a lot of players that have to be inundated with the pressure of being a varsity soccer player,” Smothers said. “I think once they get used to it, they’re going to be a very good team.”

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