Boys soccer team completes ‘Road to the Bank’

Noah Ness, Read and Watch Video Editor

It takes a lot to win the state tournament and achieve a top five national rank in a highly competitive sport like boys soccer. This year’s team, led by all-state senior players Patrick Allan, Miguel Caravias and Colman Farrington, achieved a historic undefeated 22-0 record with their win 2-0 in the class 2A state championship game over Wayzata on Nov. 3 in the new US Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis. The win gave the Ponies their first championship since 1996.

After finishing with a record of 7-2-7 during the regular season last year and advancing to a section playoff semifinal game, the team figured to be on the rise, but few predicted it would be the number one ranked team in the state for most of 2016 season.

“We expected to do well and thought we could make a state tournament based on how we did last year and who we brought back and who joined,” head coach Jake Smothers said. “However, we did not think a 22-0 season was in the cards.”

The Ponies started their season off strong, with a dominating 6-1 victory over St. Paul Central. They never looked back, outscoring their opponents a combined 65-7 during the regular season.

Our wins in Wisconsin were an eye opener about how good we could be,” Smothers said about the wins the Ponies had during their first games of the season.

Behind junior goalie Fred LeClair and defenseman Allan, who was honored as a nominee for the MN Mr. Soccer award, the team posted an impressive 12 shutouts during the regular season.

I believe the reason we were successful in only allowing these goals was primarily our defense.”

— Fred LeClair

“I believe the reason we were successful in only allowing these goals was primarily our defense,” LeClair said. “They were truly phenomenal this year.”

This success gave them the number one seed in the section playoffs, which they proved was deserved by outscoring their opponents 15-2 in just three games. The playoffs ended with the Ponies being crowned as section champions, but the team wasn’t done yet.

“The section final win against North was an emotional grind against a rival,” Smothers said of the team’s 2-1 victory over North St. Paul in the section championship game.

The boys cruised to the state championship game with 6-1 victories over Mounds View and Andover. The championship game figured to be a much tougher matchup though, since their opponent, Wayzata (18-1-3), also came into the game undefeated. There were multiple scoring chances for both teams, but the game remained deadlocked until a few minutes into the second half, when Farrington buried a pass into the lower right corner of the net to give the Ponies a 1-0 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. Senior Kohei Adams added another goal with seven minutes left to seal the game.

The game almost started out much differently. In the first minute of the game, Wayzata’s Patrick Weah broke through the Pony’s defense, setting up a one on one goal scoring opportunity with LeClaire.

“While the play was happening, I wasn’t really thinking that it could be a key point in the game,” LeClaire said. “All I thought was, ‘I need to stop the ball,’ and that’s what ended up happening.”

The success the Ponies had during the championship game and the season wasn’t because of chance. An important part of the team that paved the way for its dominance was its depth.

“Our bench squad was basically the same skill level as the starting squad,” LeClaire said. “This made subbing people in and out really easy.”

Another reason the team was successful this year was the players felt they connected better than ever before. Many of the team members had played together coming into this year, and the ones who hadn’t been with the team for as long, like Caravias, a foreign exchange student, fit in with the team nicely. When all of these pieces came together and clicked, the team was unstoppable.

“This year was the first year I felt that we, the team, connected in all aspects,” Allan said. “We have a variety of kids: young and old, big and small. Our one similarity however was that we’ve all played at a high level and won. That’s what made this season different.”

One thing that the seniors of the team got to experience was the feeling of going out on top. Every other class 2A playoff team’s season ended in a loss, and the seniors for the Pony’s this year are the only ones who got to walk off with a win and a championship medal around their necks.

“As awesome as it is, it’s still hard to think I’m done playing high school soccer,” senior Mason Bartosh said. “I’m happy it ended this way though. It couldn’t have worked out any better.”