Oct. 13—WORTHINGTON — The coach, Juan Flores, seemed to perfectly sum up his players' feelings last year after the Worthington Trojans boys soccer team lost a heartbreaking 1-0 overtime game to Bloomington Kennedy in the section championship.
"This one stings," Flores said. "And it's going to sting for a long time."
It is now almost a year since the unbeaten and once-tied Trojans were denied a state tournament trip on their own Trojan Field turf. Flores' team is now competing in the 2021 section tournament, but the Kennedy loss still hurts.
"Oh yeah. Absolutely. I think until we get the chance to make the section final, I think until then the kids have a chip on their shoulders. They're always saying, 'We gotta get that one back,'" Flores said on Monday.
On Tuesday, Worthington opened this year's section tournament again as the No. 1 seed, with a perfect 16-0 record and a No. 4 state ranking. The boys easily outplayed eighth-seeded Jordan on Tuesday, but they'll need to win one more before getting to the championship game.
Perhaps we will know then, and only then, whether the Trojans' angst has helped them or hurt them over the past 12 months. For his part, Flores said memories of last year's misfortune have helped them focus.
"We look at it in a positive way, as a sign of motivation," he said. "I think last year the kids were intimidated to play at home, and they didn't want to lose (there). They were tense. You could tell out there. You can see they were scared to make mistakes, and that's when they made most of their mistakes."
Last year's section title loss, said senior Isaiah Noble, "pushes us not to take anybody lightly and to expect good competition. I feel like most of us, having had that year to think about it — we put in the work in our summer season and in the fall. I think we've had time to digest that loss, and hopefully it won't happen again."
This year's more positive feeling may have something to do with the fact that the Trojans are senior-dominated. They were certainly outstanding in the 2021 regular season, outscoring rival teams by a whopping 105-4. Sophomore attacker Jonathan Banegas scored goals consistently, as if they were candy.
But Flores insisted the team's defense, as well as its midfield, was a big part of the Trojans' success. When one player doesn't get the job done, someone else, without fail, has stepped up. The Trojans are exceptionally quick, getting to free balls quicker than anyone else while knowing what to do once they get there.
They're also highly focused, whatever the score.
"Juan tells us even if we beat a team twelve to nothing, we can't just be happy with that," said senior Menkem Mehri. "We constantly have to get better. It's now or never. ... If one person scores, it's like the whole team scores. Everybody is on the same page. It's a team. That's who we are. It's our time."
The unanimous No. 1 seed as voted on by rival coaches, Worthington is in a section with two Mankato teams — No. 2 seed Mankato West and No. 3 seed Mankato East — both who the Trojans haven't faced in the regular season. West took a 12-4 record into the sectional and lost its last two regular season games to Rochester Century 1-0 and Austin 1-0 (Worthington beat Austin 4-1 this fall). East also lost its last two games of the regular season, 4-3 to Owatonna and 2-0 to Rochester Century. Both Owatonna and Century are Class AAA squads.
"They're real good teams," Flores said of the Mankato teams. "And New Prague (seeded fifth) is very good as well. Even Jordan is a very good team. They play very different teams. We don't know how good every team is until we play them."
If there's one thing that opponents may want to do against the Trojans, it might be to muscle them. The Trojans are not large physically.
But resorting to tough tactics hasn't helped anybody yet.
"We're aware that there will be physicality with every game, especially with the Mankatos," said Flores. "But we have to be ready for that. We have to be ready for everything."