“She had a target on her back but she accepted it,'' Centennial coach Ginger Flohaug said of senior Khyah Harper. ''Her leadership, her maturity and the way she communicated with her teammates really showed this season.” Photo by CARLOS GONZALEZ ¥ firstname.lastname@example.org
Centennial standout Khyah Harper recently finished perhaps the most important 12 months of her soccer journey the way she started it, in a room with coach Ginger Flohaug discussing big soccer dreams.
A year ago, the two met for an exit interview after a strong season for program and player. Harper earned first team All-State honors and led the Cougars to a runner-up finish in the Class 2A state tournament. They fell to Maple Grove on Halloween.
Harper entered this season with goals of avenging the title-game loss and winning the Ms. Soccer Award. That sounded good to Flohaug, who told her, “You need to be my coach on the field. You need to keep making the other players around you better.”
This fall, Harper scored 26 goals and added 11 assists in 14 games and led Centennial to a section championship — the best it could do once the Minnesota State High School League canceled fall sports state tournaments for fear of spreading COVID-19.
Flohaug kept Harper’s other goal top of mind throughout the shortened season.
“I’d tell her, ‘Show the other teams why you should be Ms. Soccer,’ ” Flohaug said of the award given by the coaches association to the state's top senior player. “I would light that fire.”
Flohaug, her camera at the ready, recently drove to the Harper home on Halloween for a noon video announcement of the Mr. and Ms. Soccer winners. Flohaug knew Harper was a finalist. Nothing more.
When the news became official, Flohaug, in her 20th and final season as Cougars’ coach, became emotional.
“She had tears in her eyes and she said, ‘I knew you’d get it,’ ” Harper said. “It was an amazing moment, and it was so special to share it with her.”
Harper, the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, grew into a complete player.
“She’s really grown up,” Flohaug said. “She had a target on her back but she accepted it. Her leadership, her maturity and the way she communicated with her teammates really showed this season.”
Harper said she sought to be the “boisterous leader” for a veteran Centennial team featuring 12 seniors.
“Ginger was always telling to me to make everyone better around me but I couldn’t do it without my teammates and I am super grateful for them,” said Harper, who is committed to the Gophers.
A transfer from North Branch before her sophomore season, Harper did in three seasons what few longer-tenured Centennial players have done. She leaves with the second-highest number of career goals (75) and points (121).
And she benefited from lessons beyond the record books.
“Ginger built my character,” Harper said. “She kept me on track.”
2019: Sophia Boman, Edina
2018: Megan Plaschko, Eagan
2017: Meredith Haakenson, Maple Grove
2015: Hannah Cade, Lakeville North
2014: April Bockin, Eden Prairie
2013: Elizabeth Endy, Minnetonka
2012: Jenna Roering, Centennial
2011: Simone Kolander, Lakeville North
2010: Taylor Uhl, Eden Prairie
2009: Kassie Kallman, Woodbury
2008: Allie Phillips, Mounds View
2007: Krista Lundgren, Lakeville South
2006: Julie Rezac, Eden Prairie
2005: Dana Tripp, White Bear Lake
2004: Elena Fruci, Mahtomedi
2003: Kelsey Hans, Lakeville
2002: Katherine Krambeer, Osseo
2001: Caroline Smith, Edina
2000: Rachel Gilfillan, Woodbury
1999: Amanda McMahon, Stillwater
1998: Megan Almonzo, Armstrong
1997: Jena Kluegel, Mahtomedi
1996: Jena Kluegel, Mahtomedi
1995: Sarah Blaska, Anoka
1994: Mara Miller, Stillwater
1993: Jennifer McElmury, White Bear Lake
1992: Jennifer Walek, North St. Paul
1991: Gretchen Brandt, Mounds View
1990: Shannan Scibilia, Park of Cottage Grove
1989: Janet Newinski, Burnsville
1988: Lisa Mickelson, North St. Paul
1987: Nicole Johnson, Rosemount;
Kari Maijala, Bloomington Jefferson