A Rosemount redux?

Girls soccer team takes on challenge of duplicating last year’s success

Rosemount girls soccer players work out in preparation for their season opener against Andover on Aug. 25 in Duluth. The Irish were second in the 2016 state Class AA tournament. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

Rosemount’s girls soccer players and coaches will try to keep everything the same as last year, even though they realize that will be difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish.

The Irish were one of Minnesota’s surprise teams in 2016, reaching the state tournament for the first time in 19 years and playing in the Class AA final for the first time ever. But, with a strong group of returning players from last year’s state runner-up team, the Irish are no longer plucky underdogs. They’re part of the establishment.

“They’ve got a target on their backs now, which never happened last year,” coach Gretchen Stramel said at Tuesday morning’s practice. “I would say the girls at the beginning of last year never truly thought (playing in the state final) was going to be their future. They hoped it, and they were working for it, but it wasn’t something that was expected of them. Now that they’ve had a taste of it and have done it, the hard part is it’s become an expectation.”

Ellie Sprouls, a senior defender and one of the Rosemount captains, described the Irish as trying to maintain a difficult balance. They know what they can accomplish given their talent but realize they’re no longer in a position to surprise anybody.

“We’re still focusing highly on working as a team, so I don’t think that’s much different,” she said. “I do think we have higher hopes for this year, but we have no expectations. We’re just trying to work as hard as we can.”

Rosemount won’t play its first game until Friday, Aug, 25, against Andover in a tournament in Duluth, but the Irish (17-2-2 last season) already have to overcome one tough loss. Junior forward Jadyn Scholler, the team’s leading scorer in 2016, is recovering from a torn knee ligament sustained last winter and isn’t expected to play this season. It’s the latest of a frustrating string of injuries for Scholler, who missed her ninth-grade season because of a knee injury and played with a broken hand last season.

“She was a firecracker up front and we need somebody who can generate that same thing,” Stramel said. “We’re going to be looking for someone who’s a goal-scorer.”

The Irish have at least one more experienced goal-scorer on the team. Senior captain Lauren Bangh had 12 goals last season, second most on the team, and scored the Irish’s goal in their 2-1 loss to Centennial in last year’s state championship game.

“We hope to keep the intensity high, the pressure high, win the balls and find people who can deliver and put it in back of the net,” Bangh said.

Junior Sydney Essler and senior Josie Schlie are other candidates to play forward. Senior midfielder Megan Dahl scored seven goals last season. “She wins everything in the middle,” Bangh said of Dahl.

Jasmine Finley, also a senior midfielder, scored six goals last year and set up Scholler’s game-winner against Minneapolis Washburn in the Class AA semifinals. Caitlin Miller and Jill Newton join Sprouls as returning defenders.

Rosemount needs a new varsity goalkeeper after senior Maggie Tulay played every minute last season. “The two JV keepers from last year – one’s a sophomore and one’s a senior – are both great players,” Stramel said. “They’ll be coming in fighting for the spot. I think they will do a great job, either or both.”

The Irish will have a home scrimmage Saturday where they will be looking for players who can play more than one position.

Rosemount girls soccer captains Lauren Bangh (left) and Ellie Sprouls. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

“The way we play the game, we want girls who play multiple positions,” Stramel said. “It allows us to overcome injuries, or change things up for teams who are expecting to see a certain thing. A lot of them assume they’re going to see a certain player up front, and having the ability to change that up is huge.”

Stramel said a victory over two-time defending state champion Eagan early in the 2016 season sparked the Irish’s drive to the state championship game.

“It opened their eyes and made them realize we can play with one of the best teams in the conference, so there’s no reason we can’t be one of the best teams in the conference,” the coach said. “That was a game-changer for them mentally.”

Bangh and Sprouls said they were initially stunned by and later grateful for the backing they got during last year’s postseason.

“We had a team dinner and a couple paid for it anonymously,” Bangh said. “It was just great to see all the support from the high school and community.”

“That was such an incredible feeling,” Sprouls said. “Everybody supports each other and roots for each other.”

Now, can they re-create it in 2017? Developing chemistry on a high school soccer team always is dicey because players often disperse to different club teams during the spring and summer.

“We have some young underclassmen we’re happy with and a solid senior class. There are quite a few seniors coming back to their spots,” Stramel said. “What I hope for more than anything is they learn to play as a team. Some of these girls have played together before but a lot of them have not. That team chemistry is what helped us be so successful last year.”