Monday October 26, 2015
By Nate Gotlieb
The Millers, upset in last year’s playoffs, will play in their first state tournament since 1989.
Minneapolis Washburn brought a new attitude to the boys’ soccer season after it was upset in last year’s section playoffs.
The players re-dedicated themselves to training, embarking on a weight-training program in the offseason. They pushed each other during practices to keep the intensity high.Every game, their coaches reminded them to bring everything they had.
“Our coach always tells us, ‘Whoever we’re going against, if we’re playing our best soccer, we can win,’ ” said captain Sam Abrams, one of 12 seniors on the team. “We just took that motto into every game.”
That don’t-hold-back attitude helped Washburn (11-4-3) defeat rival Minneapolis Southwest 2-1 in the Class 2A, Section 6 championship game Tuesday and advance to this week’s state tournament.
Washburn will be making its first state tournament appearance since 1989, when coach Aaron Percy was a sophomore on the team. It comes as the team moved from Class 1A to Class 2A this season because of increasing enrollment.
“We’ve been dreaming about it all year [and] seasons before it, too,” captain Garrett Lieb said of the state berth. “It’s a relief, and it’s a lot of fun.”
That’s something Lieb couldn’t say about the end of last season, when the Millers lost 1-0 to St. Paul Como Park in the section semifinals. Washburn was the top-ranked team in Class 1A for most of the season but went into the section tournament overconfident, he said.
The team set a goal to make state this season. Players began weight training four days a week over the summer, which Abrams said helped the team avoid late-season injuries.
Percy said he was encouraged by the effort “that the guys committed to something outside the season. That was half of the battle for us as coaches.”
The payoff wasn’t immediate, however, as Washburn went 2-2-1 in its first five games, including a 1-0 loss to Southwest on Sept. 3.
Lieb said the team was nervous about playing a Class 2A schedule coming into the season. Players became more comfortable with the idea as the season progressed, and the results improved, too.
Washburn went 6-2-2 in its final 10 regular-season games. That stretch included a 3-3 tie with Southwest on Sept. 24.
“Our mind-set completely changed after five or six games,” Lieb said. “A lot of it came from the players taking it upon themselves.”
Washburn entered the Section 6 tournament as the fourth seed and defeated St. Louis Park 3-0 in the quarterfinals and top-seeded Wayzata 2-1 in the semifinals.
Southwest scored first in Tuesday’s section championship and largely dominated the first half, outshooting Washburn 5-2.
Washburn was more aggressive in the second half, creating four shots on goal within the first 20 minutes.
It paid off, as the Millers scored two goals in that stretch. Andy Pulkrabek scored on a header nine minutes into the half, and Hassan Adan scored the game-winner eight minutes later.
The team allowed just two shots on goal in the second half. Percy said the back four defenders played a great half.
“They showed some character,” he said of the team. “They showed that they aren’t going to let this one slip away.”
When Washburn begins play in the Class 2A quarterfinals this week, it will be seeking its first state championship in school history.