Dakota United comes close to toppling a dynasty

Hawks lose 1-goal game in PI Division soccer final

Grayson Nicolay (right) of Dakota United tries to play the ball past an Anoka-Hennepin defender during the state adapted soccer tournament in Stillwater. Photo by Rick Orndorf
Grayson Nicolay (right) of Dakota United tries to play the ball past an Anoka-Hennepin defender during the state adapted soccer tournament in Stillwater. Photo by Rick Orndorf

In all high school sports, but especially adapted sports, the opportunity to participate is supposed to take priority over wins and losses.

“Tell that to my players,” Lorrie Buecksler said with a wry smile.

Dakota United played in one of the most memorable championship games in the history of the state adapted soccer tournament, and Buecksler said the Hawks shouldn’t be ashamed about their runner-up finish. Still, she said, it’s difficult not to wonder how her players might be feeling if they had won.

Dakota United, a cooperative that includes students from Apple Valley, Eagan, Eastview and Rosemount high schools, was close to ending Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka’s reign as state champions in the PI (physical impairments) Division. But the Robins scored two goals in the final three minutes for a 5-4 victory in Saturday’s championship game at Stillwater High School. It is the Robins’ sixth consecutive state title in soccer and 11th in a row in all PI Division sports (soccer, floor hockey and softball).

“No matter the sport, our kids are competitive,” Buecksler said. “They wanted to win this last year, and they came close (Dakota United also lost to the Robins in the 2012 state final). They played well, really amazing. These are great kids who pushed themselves hard all season.”

Sophomore Grayson Nicolay, an all-tournament selection, scored all four of Dakota United’s goals in the championship game and had 13 in the tournament. He took a pass from Jaayson Meyer and scored off the second-half kickoff to tie the game and added another goal less than three minutes later as the Hawks took the lead.

The lead held until 2:45 remained, when the Robins’ Jeremy Jost found the corner of the net with a long shot. The Robins pressed again in the final minute, but Dakota United’s wheelchair defenders appeared to have the play blocked. The ball then squirted to the right and onto the foot of the Robins’ Tyler Sarff, who tapped it in for the winner.

Dakota United (12-1) was the top seed from the South Division, while the Robins (9-0) were the top seed from the North.

The Hawks beat Park Center 14-3 in the opening round Friday night as Nicolay and Ben Okke scored four goals each. Miquel Flores scored three times, Kyra Patterson had two goals and Meyer scored once.

Senior Anthony Vervais and seventh-grader John Lyons split time in goal as the Hawks shut out Anoka-Hennepin 6-0 in the semifinals Saturday morning. Nicolay scored five of the Hawks’ goals, with Okke getting a goal and assist. Flores picked up two assists.

Nicolay, Vervais and Meyer were named to the all-tournament team.

Many of the Hawks are three-sport adapted athletes, and there could be more games to come against the Robins. In the 2012-13 school year Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka won state championships in soccer, floor hockey and softball, defeating Dakota United in the championship game in each sport.

Buecksler, a School District 196 paraprofessional who was in her first season as Dakota United’s PI Division soccer head coach, said the team’s sense of unity impressed her as much as its ability and competitiveness.

“When there were arguments among players, our older players always said, ‘Hey, we’re a family. We don’t do that,’” the coach said, adding that it should be no surprise that a team with that attitude was successful.