Those versed in more traditional American sports may think soccer is new to the US and the State High School League, but that’s far from true. Minnesota had soccer teams and tournaments as far back as the early 1900s. But soccer in Minnesota started ramping up in the 1950s and ‘60s. It was then that club teams started organizing leagues.
Most soccer teams were created by ethnicity. By the mid ’60s there were many registered adult clubs playing soccer. There were German, Mexican, Slavic and Scandinavian teams. There was even a team from Rochester, MN made up of British doctors as well as a team from Duluth, MN who were principally dockworkers and were of Polish and Croatian descent.
Players from these same clubs started organizing youth soccer teams, which eventually became the Minnesota Junior Soccer Association in 1968. The organization was eventually renamed as Minnesota Youth Soccer Association in the ’80s.
Those same players started organizing and coaching high school club teams in the early 1960s. In 1961 there were six boys high school soccer teams from public and private schools who created an interscholastic league. They were Minnehaha Academy, St. Thomas Academy, Breck, Blake, Edina, and University High School.
One year later the first official league was formed with five schools joining. The teams participating were Shattuck, Blake, Breck, St. Thomas Academy and Minnehaha Academy who won the first tournament. Edina and Richfield joined in 1963 and again it was Minnehaha Academy under the coaching of Guido Kauls who won the tournament. Kauls was one of the leaders in founding high school soccer in the state and coached 850 games for Minnehaha Academy stretched over 41 years.
By 1966 there were 18 teams playing and the Lake Conference split away from the private schools. Each had enough teams to form their own leagues. The conference of private schools included Blake, Benilde, Minnehaha Academy, St. Thomas Academy, Shattuck, Breck, and Cretin. Blake won the first championship.
A few teams dropped out but many more schools were adding club teams.
In 1972 a team joined the league which would go on to become a perennial tournament favorite, with a coach who is the most recognized soccer name in Minnesota soccer. The team was St. Paul Academy (SPA) and the coach, Buzz Lagos.
Lagos started as an assistant soccer coach and teacher at SPA in 1969. Lagos recalls his first year and the obstacles that many coaches and students faced to get soccer teams formed. At the end of his first fall season, SPA’s athletic director told coaches they were dropping soccer because it conflicted with football and drew too many student athletes away from that sport. Lagos says he came close to quitting.
His team continued, but only in club form from 1970 through 1971 until enough parents complained and the team was allowed back into the conference. By 1973 SPA played in the private school championship against Cretin. They lost 4-2 and Lagos remembers that Minnesota baseball legend Paul Molitor scored two goals for Cretin.
Lagos also remembers a time where there were no penalty kick shootouts for playoff games ending in a draw. “We played until one team scored,” recalled Lagos. “We went into overtime with Alexander Ramsey in a sectional final with the score tied 2-2. We played 20-minute overtimes and the game just kept going and going and going. Nineteen minutes and fifty-six seconds into the fourth overtime we scored. That was about 160 minutes of soccer or two hours and forty minutes. I had guys who never came off the field the entire game.”
The former SPA coach says he knew then and there that the MSHSL needed to change the format to penalty kicks. “It was crazy,” said Lagos. And it didn’t happen just once to Lagos. In SPA’s first state tournament game played at Macalester College against South St. Paul, Lagos and his players went up against an aspiring hockey coach named Doug Woog. Once again the game went to another fourth overtime before losing 1-0 to South St. Paul. Lagos said that South St. Paul lost their next game and looked exhausted. The rules were changed soon afterwards.
Lagos went on to coach for 26 years going 256-55-35 and his teams won four state championships. He coached numerous high school players that went on to professional careers including his son’s Gerard and Manuel and other players like Amos Magee and Tony Sanneh.
He eventually took his coaching skills to a higher level and help to found the Minnesota Thunder professional team and coached them for 15 more years before retiring. He is still active coaching Higher Ground Academy.
While Lagos may be Minnesota’s most notable coach, twin brothers Paul and Glenn Beggin were two of the more influential coaches and organizers in high school soccer. Glen who is coaching again, started at Irondale 46 years ago. His basement still holds boxes of organizational documents from the early years of club and high school soccer.
His brother Paul is still in the Mahtomedi school district and his boys team won a Class A tournament championship in 2009.
The two brothers are a wealth of information, reeling off names of coaches, organizers, teams, leagues, dates and locations like it was yesterday.
They explain that there were other obstacles to overcome in the leagues infancy. Only three players from a high school team were allowed to play together on a summer club team. That meant that clubs around the Twin Cities would create all-star teams with top players from different high schools. Eventually the league reversed its decision. This allowed more continuity and familiarity between club and high school players. The decision also added to the quality of MSHSL soccer.
Finally, in 1974, thirteen years after the first high school teams were formed, the Minnesota State High School League accepted soccer as a high school sport for boys who played in the fall. Bloomington Lincoln defeated Mounds View 2-0 to win the first-ever official tournament championship.
It wasn’t until 1977 that girl’s teams formed with unofficial tournaments held at the end of the season. While the boys played in the fall the girls played in the spring allowing school to share uniforms, balls and other soccer equipment.
In 1981, nine years after Title IX was passed, Dorothy McIntyre, a pioneer of girls sports in Minnesota and who worked for MSHSL for 32 years, set out guidelines to make girls soccer equal to the boys. The girls also started playing in the fall and now had their own uniforms and equipment and were officially accepted as MSHSL sport. There were 21 teams participating that first year.
It wasn’t until 1997 that soccer went to a two class system, Class A and Class AA. Eight teams qualified for Class AA and four teams for Class A.
On the girl’s side, Henry Sibley beat Stillwater Area 1-0 for the first Class AA final. Mahtomedi defeated Blake School 4-0 in Class A.
On the boy’s side, Apple Valley defeated Henry Sibley 1-0 in the first Class AA tournament and Benilde-St. Margaret’s beat Mahtomedi 1-0 in the Class A final.
In 2001, the Class A schools had enough teams to allow the tournament to expand to 8 teams.
As the game has grown in popularity so have the participation numbers with even smaller outstate schools starting teams in ’80s and ‘90s. As of 2014, 53 years after the first high school teams organized, the MSHSL had 244 participating schools with 8,958 boys and 7,835 girls for a total of 16,793 student athletes participating.
Immigrants brought soccer to Minnesota in the early years and had great influence in early club and high school teams as coaches, referees and organizers. So it’s fitting that in more recent years immigrants from Southeast Asia, Africa and Mexico have arguably had a greater impact to soccer than any other MSHSL sport.
Jorey Ericksen has been coaching at St. Paul Central for 14 years. His teams have been an eclectic mix of players that have allowed his inner-city school to make it to the State Tournament once and to six section final appearances. “The student-athlete or their parents have grown up in a place where soccer is about the only recreational activity,” Ericksen said. “It’s not like what the typical kid in America is exposed to with many different sports.”
First and second generation immigrants feel comfortable with a ball at their feet and soon feel just as comfortable with teammates who become friends throughout their high school years. Ericksen says he’s seen that at most St. Paul schools but particularly at Central, Como Park and Humboldt. He says other immigrant students will rally around their friends playing soccer – which in turn allows better interaction between the student body.
Having players of mixed ethnicity has also allowed teams to be less cookie-cutter-like and more stylistic.
“Most of the ethnic communities have an aggressive and attacking offensive style. You sprinkle that in with kids who have perhaps grown up playing here in a more organized environment and it tends to be much more fun to watch and fun to coach as well,” Ericksen said.
Minneapolis schools like South and Southwest have also seen success with immigrant players in recent years. There were also first tier suburban schools like Armstrong and Osseo that saw an influx of Liberian players in the 90s and even Roseville saw many Slavic immigrants in the 80s. These days immigrant populations are influencing more outstate and outer ring suburbs. The 2014 State Tournament saw Chaska make their first appearance with a large Hispanic influence.
According to Glenn and Paul Beggin, state tournament games were originally played at different arbitrary locations. Richfield and Mielke Stadium at Robinsdale where just a few of the early sites.
In 1986, the tournament finals for both the boys and girls moved indoors to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. Large crowds now came from across Minnesota to watch the finals so MSHSL expanded tournament games in the Metrodome in 1988 to include the semifinals. The tournament remained there through the 2013 season. The Metrodome was torn down in the winter of 2014.
The 2014 tournament was held at St. Cloud State University Husky Stadium in St. Cloud, MN. The tournament will remain there through 2015 and current plans will have teams moving to the protected confines of the new Vikings stadium once it’s completed in the summer of 2106.
On the girls side, Wayzata has a record 7 titles, Mahtomedi has 6 and Woodbury 5.
For the boys, Apple Valley leads the pack with 9 state titles. Benilde-St. Margaret and SPA follow with 5 a piece.
Many of Minnesota’s best high school players have gone on to professional careers and some have spent time in Europe and with the US National Team, the highest honor for a soccer player. Leo Cullen, Tony Sanneh, Manny Lagos, Tom Presthus and Eric Miller all have played or are currently playing in MLS are have spent time on the US National Team, the highest honor for a soccer player. Many other Minnesota boy players have gone on to pro soccer careers in the US and across the world.
Brianna Scurry (Anoka) was first Minnesota women high school player to make her mark in a big way with the US National Team level as well as a pro. She was the goalkeeper for the US 1995 World Cup team(3rd place), 1996 Summer Olympics (gold medal), 1999 World Cup (champions), 2003 World Cup (3rd place), and the 2004 Summer Olympic Games (gold medal). She played in the semi-final and playoff for third place in the 2007 Women’s World Cup (3rd place) and she played three seasons as starting goalkeeper for the Atlanta Beat (2001–2003) of the WUSA.
Currently Kassey Kallman (Woodbury) plays for The Boston Breakers (NWSL) and was named player of the year for her team for the 2015 seasons.
Long time Wayzata coach Tony Peznecker holds the coaching record in Minnesota for the highest winning percentage at 0.858. He has 410 wins with 13 tournament appearances and 7 state championships.
Phil Johnson coached high school soccer at Stillwater for 36 years, with 32 spent as Stillwater Boys’ Head Coach. Phil was also instrumental in progressing and promoting the sport. He coached 671 games for Stillwater.
Chuck Scanlon of Apple Valley not only sits in Minnesota’s record book but also the national record books. He is still actively coaching and has been for 38 consecutive years. He has a record of 574-103-53 (not sure if this is current or not) and has won a record 9 Class AA state titles. For two seasons between 2009-10 his team went on 46 game winning streak.
26 Minnetonka 2001-02
Consecutive Games without a Loss
43 Wayzata 2002-03
43 Stillwater 1998-99
Least Amount of Goals Allowed in a Season
2 Minnehaha 1998
2 Wayzata 1997
22 Minnehaha Academy 1998
21 Mahtomedi 1997
21 Wayzata 1997
Goals in a Career
203 Amy Busch Benilde-St. Margaret’s 1984-89
145 Liz Woerle Meadow Creek Christain/Coon Rapids 2002-05
132 Sarah Schellinger Sartell-St. Stephen 2003-07
Goals in a Season
60 Elizabeth Woerle Meadow Creek Christian 2004
54 Clare Culligan St. John’s Prep 2012
49 Molly Rouse Cambridge-Isanti 2006
Goals in a Game
8 Molly Rouse Cambridge-Isanti Big Lake 2006
8 Susie Lee Eagan Carson City, Nevada, 2004
Assists in a Career
66 Kim Corbin St. Cloud Tech 1989-95
63 Sarah Fitzgerald Duluth East 1993-96
63 Amy Reinhart Benilde-St. Margaret’s 1985-88
46 Apple Valley 2009-10
Consecutive Games without a Loss
62 Stillwater Area 1995-97
Least Amount of Goals Allowed in a Season
4 Wayzata 1997 (23 games)
20 Wayzata 1997
20 Mpls. Southwest 2010
Goals in a Career
112 Grant Bell Little Falls 2007-11
103 Chadd Cordova Plainview-Elgin-Millville 2004-08
96 Brian Grand North Branch 2004-09
Goals in a season Boys
50 Chris Pellegrino Hillcrest Lutheran Academy/Pelican Rapids 2013
46 Elliot Cassutt Mpls. South 2010
39 Justin Oliver North St. Paul 2013
Goals in a game Boys
10 Elliot Cassutt Mpls. South Henry 2012
7 Elliot Cassutt Mpls. South Mpls. Edison 2010
7 Josh Jensen St. Peter Madelia 2006
7 Aaron Gibbons Mpls. South Henry 2005
7 Aaron Gibbons Mpls. South Henry 2004
Assists in a career
88 Chris Scanlon Apple Valley 1994-96
75 Michael Azarbod Mankato Loyola 2004-07
74 Tyler Oliver North St. Paul 2010-13
Tags: Amos Magee, Breck School, Buzz Lagos, Chuck Scanlon, Dorothy McIntyre, Edina, Eric Miller, Glenn Beggin, Guido Kauls, Jorey Ericksen, Leo Cullen, Mahtomedi, Manny Lagos, Minnehaha Academy, MSHSL, Paul Beggin, Phil Johnson, Richfield, SPA, St. Thomas Academy, The Blake School, Tom Presthus, Tony Peznecker, Tony Sanneh, University High School