Stillwater is making its 16th state tournament appearance in boys soccer on Thursday when the second-seeded Ponies travel to St. Cloud State University to face Owatonna, which is making its first-ever trip to state.
Only Apple Valley with 18 and St. Paul Academy with 17 have qualified for more state tournaments than the Ponies, although the achievement and excitement that goes with it never gets old, especially for hall of fame coach Phil Johnson, who is retiring at the conclusion of the season.
“Absolutely. I don’t have emotion unless the boys have emotion,” Ponies coach Phil Johnson said. “I’m definitely excited, my staff is excited and our alumni is excited. It’s fresh and new and these guys have a mission and a journey and that want to get to the Dome. They’re writing this script and every script is different.”
The Ponies (14-1-4) will face an Owatonna (13-3-2) team that won Section 1AA while knocking off two teams it lost to earlier in the season. The Huskies lost three of their first five games this season, but avenged those setbacks with a 2-0 section semifinal victory over Lakeville North and a 3-2 double-overtime victory over Northfield in the section finals.
“Owatonna had a shaky start, but their last two-thirds of the season has been very, very good in terms of wins and losses and being productive and sorting everything out,” Johnson said.
Stillwater, meanwhile, enjoyed a more comfortable victory while cruising to a 6-0 victory over East Ridge in the Section 4AA finals.
The Ponies have not allowed more than one goal in a game all season and their only loss came against Brookfield East, which will compete in the Wisconsin state tournament later this week.
Stillwater (2.42) and Owatonna (2.5) have been scoring goals a similar pace, but no team in the state tournament has allowed fewer goals than the Ponies (11) behind goalkeeper Ben Wilhelm. The Huskies have allowed 22 goals this season.
“We’re a conservative team and we want to make sure we have no mistakes in the back,” Johnson said. “That is a big thing for me and my coaching style and yet, this year we have some boys who can put it in the back of the net. We were never really way out in any game and it was never a slaughter, that’s a virtue of our schedule.
Patrick Roth leads the Ponies in scoring with 15 goals and 11 assists for 26 points while midfielder Roma Devine has four goals and six assists for 10 points. Alex Jurcoi and Sam Rasmussen have scored five goals apiece for Stillwater, which carries a 14-game unbeaten streak into the state tourney.
The Huskies are led by in scoring by freshman Jared Santibanez, who has racked up 10 goals and four assists this season. Midfielder Dexter Leer has provided 13 assists to go along with three goals while Isaiah Dawson also ranks among the team leaders with seven goals and three assists. Carter McCauley has played all but 20 minutes in goal this season.
Owatonna is 7-1-2 in games decided by one point or less this season, compared to 4-1-4 for the Ponies.
“We sure kept teams believing in themselves with a lot of close games, but that made us so vigilant defensively,” Johnson said. “We had close games and a stingy amount of goals given.”
#1 Champlin Park (16-0-1) vs. Blaine (14-3-1), 5:30 p.m.
#4 Minneapolis South (16-1-2) vs. Bloomington Jefferson (15-3-1), 7:30 p.m.
#3 Eastview (12-2-5) vs. Moorhead (14-2-1), 5:30 p.m.
#2 Stillwater (14-1-4) vs. Owatonna (13-3-2), 7:30 p.m.
Semifinals — At the Metrodome on Monday, 4/6 p.m.
Finals — At the Metrodome on Nov. 1, 5:30 p.m.