Adapted soccer: Ponies raising expectations

Gazette photo by Stuart Groskreutz
Members of the Stillwater adapted soccer team include, front row, from left, Sam Sungaard, Hannah Johnson, Brittany Benz and Wesley Dahle. Second row, coach Rob Hollerbach, assistant coach Katelyn Thompson, Devin Wildes, Austin Harjes, Dan Pehrson, Cali Capistrant and assistant coaches Kate Linhoff and Cindy McClung. Team member Riley Cludy is missing from the photo.

Head coach — Rob Hollerbach (5th year).

Assistant coaches — Cindy McClung.

Last season — 2-7.

2012 captains — Riley Cludy and Wesley Dahle.


Who’s gone — The Stillwater adapted soccer team graduated four seniors from last year’s squad, including TyShawn Robinson, Max Kelting, Haley Olson and  Zak Anglin-Goetz. Numbers are down slightly for the Ponies this fall as several additional players did not come out for the team, including Hannah Kane, Lisa Simonet, David Kaetterhenry and Natasha Wofford-Funke.

Who’s back — Senior captain Riley Cludy is back after leading the Ponies in scoring a year ago, along with second-leading scorer Austin Harjes. Cludy was an all-conference performer a year ago. Cali Capistrant was the team’s top first-year player a year ago and Dan Pehrson is back as one of the team’s most improved players throughout last season, primarily on defense. Wesley Dahle joins Cludy in serving as a captain and brings some experience to the goaltender spot while Devin Wildes, Brittany Benz and Sam Sungaard also return for the Ponies.

“We have a good core of juniors and seniors, but we just need a few more kids,” Ponies coach Rob Hollerbach said. “We’re going to be threading a fine line, but I think we can do it. The kids are happy, it’s just a little bit of a struggle because of low numbers.”

Top newcomers — Hannah Johnson is the only first-year player listed on this year’s roster.

Season — After experiencing modest growth in participation the past few years, the decrease in numbers not only means the Ponies are unable to field a JV team this year but also provides little rest for the nine who are competing this fall when there are seven on the floor at all times. The Ponies have a strong base to build around with Cludy and Harjes on offense and Pehrson and Dahle on defense. Dahle also enjoys playing forward, with Capistrant handling the net-minding duties on occasion.

“The things we’ve been working on is controlling the ball better and passing,” Hollerbach said. “There are some games where teams will put two players on Riley or Austin so we’ll try to use our skills in spreading out their defense so we have more opportunities to shoot. If we pass a lot, they can’t set up that defense and it sets up two or three players with one-on-one situations.”

Section — The Anoka-Hennepin Mustangs, South Washington County Thunderbolts, St. Cloud Area Thunder and Mounds View/Irondale/Roseville have been the top teams in Stillwater’s half of the state and cracking that group won’t be easy.

“The same four teams have qualified for state since the last time we went to state and our division has been much stronger than the other side,” Hollerbach said. “Breaking into that group of four is difficult.”

Outlook — If there is a benefit to the smaller numbers, it is increased team unity and more focused practice time.

“They know each other much better and trust each other a lot more,” Hollerbach said. “It’s just really a tight group, even though it’s small, that’s a positive.”

Quotable — “I would like to get back to the state tournament because there’s a lot of kids who put their hopes on that, but that is not an easily attained goal in any sport. That’s the goal,” Hollerbach said. “They want to try and make it there with a small team.”

Other — Cindy McClung enters her 15th season as an assistant coach for the Ponies.

n Stillwater claimed back-to-back state championships in 2005 and 2006, posting a 27-1 record during that span. The Ponies defeated South Washington County in the state title game both years. Stillwater’s other state tournament appearance, when it was a co-op with White Bear Lake, came in 2004 when the Ponies competed in the CI Division and the PI Division.

The CI Division (formerly MH Division) is for athletes with cognitive impairments while the PI Division (formerly POHI) is for athletes with physical or other health impairments.

n Stillwater is scheduled to host the state tournament again this season. This year’s event will take place on Nov. 16-17.


2012 Roster

Seniors (2) — Riley Cludy and Wesley Dahle.

Juniors (4) — Cali Capistrant, Austin Harjes, Dan Pehrson and Devin Wildes.

Sophomores (1) — Brittany Benz.

Freshmen (2) — Hannah Johnson and Sam Sungaard.

2012 Schedule

Tuesday, Oct. 2            at Wayzata            4:30 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 4            North Suburban            4:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct. 9            at Park Center            4:30 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 11            Mounds View            4:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct. 16            at Robbinsdale Cooper            4:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct. 23            at White Bear Lake            4:30 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 25            Columbia Heights            4:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct. 30            St. Cloud            4:30 p.m.

Thursday, Nov. 1            at Anoka (Andover)             4:30 p.m.

Monday, Nov. 5            Section prelims            TBA

Thursday, Nov. 8            Section finals            TBA

Friday, Nov. 16            State tourney at SAHS            TBA

Saturday, Nov. 17            State tourney at SAHS            TBA