Drills ran by the girls’ and boys’ Minneapolis Washburn soccer teams have worked as both could contend for the school’s first state soccer title since 1981.
Barefoot, with black sweatpants masking a brace on her knee, Maddi Erdall stands motionless in goal during a recent Minneapolis Washburn soccer practice, hoping to contribute something to a spirited practice.
A knee injury has ended the senior captain’s high school soccer career. But this team is going places, making noise, and there’s no way she’s going to be left out.
“I’m doing anything I can,” Erdall said. “We’re all so close, I want to be a part of this.”
On the other side of the field, an up-tempo scrimmage is taking place. Boys are darting everywhere in the soccer equivalent of a half-court pickup basketball game, the ball pinballing through the 18 or so players on the field, finding expected targets more often than not.
The Washburn boys share the school’s Field Turf with the girls’ team, a common occurrence in this soccer-mad, space-challenged southwest Minneapolis neighborhood.
On a recent warm, late-summer evening, it was high school Soccer Central.
For the first time in school history, both teams can boast of No. 1 rankings. The boys (8-1-1 overall) have been No. 1 in Class 1A since the second week of the season. The girls (11-0) moved into an identical position this week largely on the weight of a 1-0 victory over then-No. 1 Orono on Sept. 15.
“We’ve had good soccer at Washburn for a long time,” girls’ coach Cheryl Peterson said. “This is the first time we’ve ever been ranked No. 1, but we don’t care about rankings. All we ask is that they play hard, play their game and work together.”
Considering the talent dotting the girls’ roster, the ranking is no surprise. Forward Morgan Cottew is dynamic with ball and has benefited from the return of junior forward Maya Rajacich, an elite-level player who missed all of last season because of a knee injury. Throw in Brooke Innes and the Millers might have the state’s most dangerous front line.
Such talent needs a complementary stage, so Peterson and co-head coach Reuben Ndely have taken steps to ensure the Millers are sufficiently challenged.
“We’ve tried to set up a really competitive schedule,” said Peterson, a 1991 Washburn grad. “We want our girls have to go out and work really hard.”
With at least three weeks left in the regular season, rankings are about as irrelevant as snow shovels. But kids notice and, at the very least, they do reflect respect for a program, something not lost on the members of the boys’ team. For the past few years, the Millers have played in the rather large shadow of nearby Minneapolis Southwest and its lofty reputation in Class 2A.
A victory over Southwest last season gave the boys the belief they could compete at the top. Another triumph this year, by a 1-0 score on Sept. 4, assured them of it.
“Getting over that hump was big,” Percy said. “We have been chasing Southwest for a long time.”
Sitting atop rankings is recognition for finally taking the next big step.
“For me, being ranked No. 1 is a huge deal,” senior forward Aidan Clemence said. “It shows that people know how good this team is.”
The boys earned the top spot in the rankings by virtue of leading the Minneapolis Conference, which has become one of the top soccer leagues in the state. They have a loss to South and a tie with Roosevelt on their record, but that hasn’t been enough to knock them out.
“That says a lot about this league,” said head coach Aaron Percy, who, like Peterson, is a Washburn graduate. “The teams can compete with anyone.”
For all of their success, the players and coaches know there is still more to do to legitimize them as contenders. Neither team has qualified for a state tournament since the boys in 1992. The girls have the school’s lone state soccer championship, won in 1981.
“I would not say this [season] is not a success yet,” Clemence said. “Our goal since the beginning of the season has been to go to state and win it, so we still have some work to do.”
While both teams have their own schedule to attend to, support crosses gender lines. When they’re not playing, they’re cheering for each other.
“I’m sometimes more impressed with the girls than I am with my own team,” Percy admitted. “Boy, are they good.”
Among the girls’ team, the feeling is mutual. If one wins, they all win.
“We go to the boys’ games and cheer them on and they do the same for us,” Rajacich said. “It’s kind of like a big family.”
Jim Paulsen • 612-673-7737