MHS soccer facing big first-round challenge

Teegan Olson is tasked with an assignment this week that even his coach described as “not a fun thing to do.”

The Minot High School junior midfielder will spend tonight’s first-round match at the boys state soccer tournament glued to Shanley star Conrad Hager.

On top of that, Olson ran more than usual in practice to ensure he is ready for what could be a grueling 80 or more minutes. Hager, a four-year varsity player, has 19 goals and 12 assists and is a favorite to win senior athlete of the year.

The West Region No. 4 seed Magicians (7-3-5) and the East No. 1 Deacons (13-3-2) play at 7 p.m. at Jamestown High School.

“My plan is to just put a defender on him and not let him get the ball,” MHS coach Cody Saunders said, “so make somebody else step up and beat us. Most of the shots came through him and every set piece was through him.”

That was in the teams’ first meeting, a 0-0 draw nearly a month ago in Fargo. The scoring output wasn’t a surprise for Minot, which has relied on a stout defense to keep an inconsistent offense in games. Holding Hager and the Deacons scoreless proved one of the team’s strongest performances of the season. Saunders didn’t have a specific player cover Hager then.

“We just played him to see what would happen, but after looking at how it went down, pretty much everything went through him,” Saunders said. “Every pass, every whatever, pretty much went through him. We’ve kind of done that with a couple teams and just shut (down) their No. 1 threat. It’s tough because it takes away one of your guys too, but it’s worth it, really, in the long run.”

Said Olson: “He’s really good on the ball, has good touches. He’s a good passer, so you just gotta stay with him on his first touch and try to win the ball off his feet.”

The Magicians are coming off a 2-2 tie with St. Mary’s last week. The West Region tournament in Mandan was canceled because of last week’s winter weather. The East Region doesn’t hold a tournament and Shanley is coming off a 4-1 win over South early last week.

Shanley coach Michael Breker said the team’s only East Region defeat – a 3-1 loss to Davies on Sept. 26 – was a hiccup and any issues from that game have been corrected. The Deacons still expect another challenging match from the Magicians.

“We always play Minot to a close game the past couple years,” Breker said. “They’re always a physical team, they’re very strong. They always have some talented individual players as well. You have to earn one against a strong defense like that.”

Minot’s offense is led by junior forward Ekow Annan, who has 19 goals and nine assists. Senior midfielder Ryan Crabtree also plays a major role in the attack with five goals and 17 assists.

MHS senior goalkeeper Garrett Weishaar led the Magicians to six shutouts in the regular season and made 12 saves against the Deacons. Shanley sophomore Parker Simonson helped the Deacons to 11 shutouts and made five of the team’s eight saves against MHS.

Both teams should be fresh, having not played since Oct. 1. Not playing the West Region tournament provided needed rest for MHS. Saunders thinks the Magicians have the right kind of confidence and aren’t considering themselves underdogs.

“I don’t think they’re nervous,” Saunders said. “They’re not tired, they’re not sore. It’s just gonna be the first five minutes, setting the tone and that’s gonna set the tone for the tournament. It really is. I mean, you get after it right away, you get a win and all of the sudden you don’t know what’s gonna happen.”

MHS hosting West Region XC meet Saturday

Aaron Klingbeil doesn’t make a habit of overstating his expectations ahead of big cross country or track and field meets.

In other words, he’s realistic. And the Minot coach is being honest when he says the Magicians have a legitimate chance at taking second at the West Region meet Saturday at Souris Valley Golf Course.

“We’d like to try to take second,” Klingbeil said. “I say that with a little bit of hesitation. It would mean beating the rankings and the last few years of how things are, but I think this may be the squad to do it.”

The numbers support the opinion.

Bismarck High has dominated the West Region in regular season meets, but the Magicians haven’t been too far away from regular second-place finisher Century. MHS was four points behind the Patriots in the Dickinson meet on Sept. 7 and 10 points behind in the Mandan meet a week later. The Demons won by margins of 80 and 73 in those meets.

“The strength we have right now is our top five or six has not been constant, but always had similar quality,” Klingbeil said. “If we have all our top seven have a good day we’ll be in really good shape.”

MHS senior Andrew Beach will be looking for a top-five finish and the next four Magicians will likely pack together and look to keep pace with the Century group. Seniors Dylan Ellis, Sean Krill and junior Jaden Wahlund have taken turns leading the MHS pack behind Beach.

The Magicians raced once on the Souris Valley Golf Course this year and Klingbeil believes it will provide an exciting race for spectators.

“It’s a good course, it’s a challenging course,” Klingbeil said. “I don’t think that favors us. It kind of favors a grittier runner more than one that just has a lot of miles in, which makes it a little more exciting of a match.”

The boys and girls meet will begin at 1 p.m. The young Majettes have placed outside the top five against region teams this season.

Tim Chapman covers Minot High School athletics. Follow him on Twitter @chapmatp.