Jake Smothers is the new face hoping to continue the winning tradition of the Stillwater boys’ soccer program after the Stillwater resident was tabbed to replace hall-of-fame coach Phil Johnson earlier this week.
Smothers brought the Spring Lake Park/St. Anthony team to life while coaching there the past eight years and he’s looking forward to taking the reigns of what is already one of the top programs in the state. Smothers and the Panthers finished 13-5 last fall after falling to Champlin Park 1-0 in double overtime during the Section 5AA semifinals. One of SLP/SA’s losses came against the Ponies 3-0 in the season opener.
“I’m very honored to be given the responsibility of taking over a program with the notoriety and tradition of Stillwater,” Smothers said. “I’m really excited for the opportunity and the challenges and I’m really overwhelmed by the honor and the trust that has been placed in me.”
The Seattle native, who has also coached for five years in the St. Croix Soccer Club, won two North Suburban Conference titles in eight seasons and also guided the Panthers to just their second state tournament appearance in 2005, His teams advanced to the section finals five of those years.
“We liked the head coaching experience coming in, especially when you’re looking at a top-five program,” Stillwater Activities Director Ricky Michel said. “He did a great job of rejuvenating the Spring Lake Park program. They were middle of the road and by the time he left, he made them into a top-20 program in the state. People in the soccer community had great things to say about him, which included some of the coaches in our conference, a couple college coaches and a couple of people within the general soccer community.
“Everyone commented on his organization and the relationships he builds with kids. He’s direct with players and his expectations are high, which we think is important in running a program.”
Smothers is familiar with the Stillwater program both as an opponent and someone who resides in the community. He first met Phil Johnson as the teacher of one of his four children — ages 3, 9, 10 and 12 — and liked what he heard when the topic switched to soccer.
“My first year (at SLP/SA) in 2005 Stillwater lost in the section final game and in 2006 they were in the state tournament and I started to hear about Phil and the Stillwater program and started to see the success it had and that it stood out apart from the rest of the high schools, really only rivaled by Apple Valley as far as titles and success,” Smothers said. “My players at Spring Lake Park were very anxious to create something they could take pride in so we started to model ourselves and compare ourselves to Stillwater.
“When I heard Phil was retiring, it was definitely something I wanted to take a look at and challenge myself to see if I can uphold the tradition and maybe expand it and make it grow.”