Benilde wins consecutive state titles while Park claims Metro West title
Soccer fans around St. Louis Park will not have to go very far to see high-quality high school soccer this fall with Benilde-St. Margaret’s, back-to-back state Class A champs and Metro West Conference champion St. Louis Park.
St. Louis Park
Reigning Metro West Conference champion, St. Louis Park went 7-0 to stand at the top of the standings and is ready for more this year. The Orioles were 9-5-1 overall with eight shutouts (or clean sheets to use the soccer term) as the leading scorer and two key defenders and starting goalkeeper graduated in June creating opportunities this fall.
Coach Benjy Kent has been pleased with the motivation of those back this fall to not only find strong competition on the club side of the game but to challenge themselves.
“We took the opportunity this summer to look at the pieces we have coming back and we’re really excited by the kids coming in (to the varsity team).
Seniors Alex Balfour and Rafferty Kugler return as captains after a highly successful summer season with Minneapolis United’s U18 team that won the State Cup before losing the regional final on penalty kicks.
Kugler was the second-leading scorer with six goals and four assists while Balfour was a key contributor to a stout defensive group.
Junior Elizabeth Kent played with a program in the Elite Club National League after contributing the third most points to the Orioles varsity program last fall with five goals and three assists. She converted her lone penalty kick and picked up two game-winners. Junior captain Malika Bigirindavyi was part of Minnesota Thunder Academy’s premier-level team.
Olivia Massie was part of Park’s program as a freshman and after an absence is back in the tryouts this fall as a senior.
The Orioles coach anticipates junior Rachel Young and sophomore Ava Bishop to contribute as forwards with junior Anna Jennisen adding to the depth on defense with junior Anika Hanson playing more of a role in the midfield.
Coach Kent added that the program prides itself in not cutting anyone who comes to tryouts. “That’s a source of pride for our program. We never turn anyone away,” he explained. “We’re trying to develop a competitive program and we welcome anyone who has interest to register and come on out for tryouts.”
Register and find more information at gopark.org.
The season begins at 7 p.m. Thursday, August 24 at St. Louis Park Sta
dium with the Orioles hosting Hopkins. Park visits Wayzata Saturday, August 26 at 1:30 p.m.
Benilde-St. Margaret’s, led by Scott Helling-Christy, will attempt to complete the Class A three-peat with a majority of the varsity squad back including seniors Madison Stoks, Claire Van der Heide, Vivian Shinall, Malaika Bigirinadvyi and Claire Grazzini along with junior Amanda Cassidy.
Stoks, Van der Heide, Shinall and Grazzini were named to the All-Tournament team.
“We have a lot of quality players coming back who are all playing club soccer at a very high level so that is definitely encouraging,” Helling-Christy said before the start of his 22nd season coaching.
One challenge coming into the season is a truly deep roster where injuries can take a toll. He added: “If we can avoid those, we usually are very successful.”
Each August the team reconvenes once again to gel as a unit after playing winter and summer with their own clubs. “It takes us a while to get used to playing together again,” he added, but once they get over that learning curve and become familiar with each other again, the sky is the limit.
An ankle injury will keep Grazzini, last year’s state championship goaltender, away from the goal until the final push toward sections.
The future North Dakota State player joins Stoks and fullback Ingrid Lundberg as the captains.
“First state game (Grazzini) didn’t play and from that point on played her sparingly,” Helling-Christy said as she couldn’t do further damage to the ankle that had to be surgically repaired during the off-season. Look for junior Annie Pohlen to move up from a backup role last year.
Stoks was a versatile contributor across the field last fall and Helling-Christy anticipates that to continue for the future University of Memphis Tiger.
“She’s just a fantastic player who can play anywhere on the field but works really well for us to have her as a right back,” the coach added. “She’s a good defender and can jump start the attack. Last year she added a few goals for us from the back which was amazing.”
Shinall came on strong in sections and state as she scored four times in a 6-0 state quarterfinal win over St. Cloud Apollo at St. Cloud State before moving inside to U.S. Bank Stadium for the first state tournament to be played in the new Minneapolis stadium. She continued to score a wicked clip at state scoring both BSM goals in a 2-1 victory over Hill-Murray to avenge the season-opening loss.
Shinall set up since-graduated Maren Noble on the state-clinching goal in the 35th minute against Mankato West.
Cassidy was on the receiving end of a tremendous crossing pass 25 seconds into the state final, scoring 25 seconds into the match. Helling-Christy believes the big-plays will continue with Cassidy roaming the left wing. “She’s another fantastic player we’re looking for big things from,” he said.
Van der Heide will return to her role as a central midfielder, dictating the possession and distribution of the ball.
The core defenders are back with Stoks, Lundberg, sophomore Frida Fortier and junior Danielle Gonyea. “They all play for very strong club teams and is a mixed group of returners which is nice to have,” Helling-Christy said as Benilde composed an 18-4-1 record in 2016.
Helling-Christy knows the target on the back of the Red Knights will once again be there game in, game out but the goal remains the same, to win another state title. “It’s a fun goal to have – to win a third title and I know its hard to do.
“What I told the team is, ‘Right off the bat, you’re going to bring out the best in every team so you’re going to have to really need to bring it out each and every game even against the team you think is going to be easier to get a win. They’re going to try their hardest to be that one team to upset you.’”
Last year the state champs dropped Metro West Conference matches against Chanhassen and crosstown-rival St. Louis Park. “Both teams were really excited and they should’ve been,” Helling-Christy said.
Follow sports editor Jason Olson on Twitter at @SunSportsJason.
(SUN SAILOR STAFF PHOTO BY jason olson)
Park’s Elizabeth Kent skies over the crowd to deflect away a corner kick against Benilde-St. Margaret’s in 2016.
Benilde-St. Margaret’s captured the inaugural Class A state soccer title played at U.S. Bank Stadium last Novemeber.