At a varsity boys soccer game between Centennial and Coon Rapids in Lino Lakes, Brandon Henderson (10) battled for control of the ball against Raven Noguerraga (50) of Coon Rapids. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune)
Asked by teaching peers at Centennial High School how his boys’ soccer team looked this season, Jeff Ottosen could not mask his excitement.
These Cougars players, Ottosen opined, represent the “largest collection of elite level soccer talent at Centennial ever.”
With all-state midfielder Brandon Henderson, all-conference selections in senior defender Kale Gieske and senior goalkeeper Anders Severson plus other solid players throughout the lineup, Centennial aims to be the first boys’ soccer team in school history to reach the state tournament.
“The individual play is probably the best we’ve ever had,” said Gieske, who will also handle kicking duties for Centennial’s football team. “When we use that talent as a team, that’s when we’re really going to click.”
Summer soccer often takes players from a high school team in myriad directions, and Centennial was no different. Ottosen received a new answer each time he asked players which summer team they represented. Then Ottosen, a 1992 Centennial graduate with 15 years of coaching experience at the school, focused players on a common goal.
“I told them, ‘You need to realize that you may have been playing with them but that entire time you’ve been playing for us as a community. This is your chance to showcase all that work,’ ” Ottosen said.
Coming together is a process for all teams and often there is adversity. Centennial saw its season opener spoiled with a 1-0 loss at Roseville. But Ottosen lauded players for making second-half improvements.
Things clicked in the home opener Aug. 26 against Coon Rapids. Two goals from Henderson and a goal and two assists from senior forward Jesse Roering produced a 3-0 halftime lead.
“The first game I didn’t think we were quite there,” said Severson, who made a sprawling save to keep Coon Rapids from scoring a first-half goal. “This game [against Coon Rapids] I thought we were really good. We played as a team, and it looked really good.”
Roering added a third assist in the second half. He and senior midfielder Lotsimin Yang are two players Ottosen considers important to the team’s success. In addition, the coach expects big things from foreign-exchange student Jonas Greib.
While Ottosen has welcomed great expectations, he challenges all players to do the little things well.
“They’re beginning to understand how to be hungry,” Ottosen said. “We graduated seniors so this group is stepping into a new environment, trying to refind their leadership and what they’ve developed. I’m happy with where they are at and even happier knowing they are interested in continuing forward with it, too.”
Incentive is no problem. Centennial’s 2013 season ended on the cusp of the state tournament, the team losing in overtime of the section final against Andover.
“Don’t even remind me of that,” Severson said. “I’ll never forget that game. I thought we had it in the first half.”
Now the Cougars, older and talent-rich, must make the climb again.
“We’ve all been excited because of the way last season ended,” Henderson said. “That gives us encouragement to come back and be even better. I think we’ll make it even further this year. I think this year is the year.”