Soccer 2022: Two girls’ coaches talk about getting, staying on top

Edina girls' soccer coach Katie Aafedt feels the challenge for a defending state championship team is fighting off complacency — a problem she would love to have.

Her counterpart, Stillwater's Mike Huber, has found the anecdote.

The defending champion Ponies have 10 freshmen. Half of them start for a team that has begun the season 5-0 with zero goals allowed against top teams such as Edina, Maple Grove and Rosemount.

"I didn't expect to be winning all these games," Huber said. "Maybe we're going to be more competitive than I thought. These younger girls don't look out of place. Maybe it's because they don't know any better."

Case in point: Huber noticed his players congregating in separate groups earlier this season and urged his eight seniors to sit with the freshmen in the name of inclusion.

"The seniors said, 'We're sitting on the dry concrete and they are sitting in the wet grass,' " Huber said with a laugh.

Stillwater, one of the state's youngest teams, must continue to defy expectations. Edina, which lost to the Ponies in the 2021 state tournament semifinals, faces its own challenges. Before last season, Minnetonka dominated the Hornets in the section playoffs.

Junior midfielder Izzy Engle, whom Aafedt considers one of the nation's top players, and senior goalkeeper Bayliss Flynn, who is committed to Montana, give Edina two leaders in the pursuit for redemption.

"Everything went right for us last season, except for that Stillwater game," Aafedt said. "So we do come back with a little hunger. So let's take that hunger and get there again."

Class 3A state tournament runner-up Centennial and semifinalist Rosemount, which held the No. 1 ranking in the past two coaches polls, also remain in the mix for postseason glory. So does Blaine, led by Kendall Stadden, who is committed to Minnesota, and Wayzata.

In Class 2A, Mahtomedi will pursue an 11th state championship. Minnehaha Academy will attempt to defend its Class 1A state title.

But soccer is a fickle game.

"It's never a given to get back there no matter how good the team is," Aafedt said. "We've had really good teams in the past that don't even make it to the state tournament."

On the boys' side

Last year's state tournament champions are seeing mixed results in the early going. Orono sits atop Class 2A in the most recent coaches' poll while Southwest Christian of Chaska holds the No. 2 spot in Class 1A.

In Class 3A, Mounds View fell from No. 1 in the preseason poll to No. 8 despite starting the season with a tie and a victory and not permitting a goal. The top three teams are Wayzata, Stillwater and Minnetonka.