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A group of soccer coaches took their best shot at a state tournament proposal only to have the Minnesota State High School League knock it away.
But there is a rebound chance in the works, one being led by what Stillwater boys' soccer coach Jake Smothers called a “highly motivated and highly organized” parent group representing various soccer booster clubs in the metro area. They are working around, not with, the MSHSL because the governing body already indicated it would not reconsider its decision to prohibit fall sports state tournaments.
Boys’ and girls’ soccer teams conclude their MSHSL-sanctioned section tournaments this week, resulting in 32 section champions in among boys' and girls' teams in Class 1A and 2A. Typically, those teams would play down to four state champions. The state tournament in the works would provide that traditional finish, albeit not at U.S. Bank Stadium. While dates are not confirmed, the event could take place as early as the week of Oct. 26 to ensure no overlap with club soccer training.
“We’re not quite to the end but there is momentum here,” said Smothers, a former section representative lending his experience, insight and contacts to support the parents' efforts. “We just need to finish it.”
Last week, the soccer coaches were told their proposal to make a state tournament happen was denied. Erich Martens, MSHSL executive director, said the league would adhere to Minnesota Department of Health recommendations to mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19 with a “focus on a postseason that is based locally” to “reduce the gathering of individuals, especially from a variety of communities.”
Stillwater girls’ soccer coach Mike Huber said, “In the grand scheme, we’ve played hundreds of games and there haven’t been a lot of issues. It’s not right that the kids had a reduced season and then have it end on an arbitrary date. It doesn’t make sense to end at sections, especially for the reasons the high school league is giving us.”
Playing outside the MSHSL’s purview means the previously secured metro area high school turf field sites are off limits. High school-issued team uniforms are prohibited. And the biggest challenge – coaches cannot direct their varsity players.
Smothers said the parent group has worked to address several key logistical challenges, including host sites and game officials.
Potential host sites could include the National Sports Center in Blaine. Wherever games might be played, the same COVID-19 related safety measures followed the entire fall season will remain in place.
Then there is the challenge of whether teams from greater Minnesota can make the trip(s) to play as many as three state tournament games in a week. The early Class 1A section champions represent Austin, Cloquet, Duluth Denfeld and Winona Cotter.
Still, Huber said, “The kids deserve an opportunity.”
Smothers agreed.
“A lot of people made a lot of adjustments all season to get to this point,” he said. “I think the kids and their families deserve this. I know how much high school players were looking forward to a season and a state tournament. So, it’s worth our energy to try and put together a culminating event.”