The East Ridge boys’ soccer team is making a name for itself.
The Raptors, as a No. 5 seed in their section last year, managed to upset No. 1-ranked North St. Paul 2-0 to advance to the section finals, where they fell just shy of making their first state tournament appearance.
The victory over the Polars was impressive in a number of ways, including keeping in check two of the state’s top scorers in twin brothers Justin and Tyler Oliver of North St. Paul. The two combined for a total of 55 goals last year.
It was a good step for a youthful roster. And East Ridge has lost only one starter from that squad.
“It was a young team, so it was definitely a momentum builder,” second-year head coach Anthony Bidwell said. “It was good to see that as we move forward in building the program we want to build here.”
Defense is a key theme and strength within the program, as evidenced by that marquee victory. It’s continued this fall. Through the team’s first three games this season, the Raptors allowed only one goal.
Captains Alec Tostenrud and Joseph Kays help anchor the defensive corps. Kays was more of a follower last year, but has made big leadership strides. Tostenrud is serving as captain for his second season.
“Alec does a tremendous job of role modeling on the training field, in the game and in the classroom, so he’s a player that all the young players can look up to,” Bidwell said. “He earns the trust and respect of all players. Both of those captains are great attributes to us.”
Senior Chris Knight holds down duties in the net. A number of juniors have also stepped up into leadership roles, including Samuel Ruiz Plaza, Kris Broughton and Zack Boerjan.
But this isn’t a one-dimensional team, as shown by its offensive patterns so far.
Through the team’s first three contests, the Raptors had six goal scorers. Boerjan led the way with three goals in three matches. He’s put in the effort since last season.
“He came into camp much stronger, quicker, more explosive,” Bidwell said. “He’s also improved his technical skills on the ball. When the ball’s at his feet, he’s really comfortable. He’s honed his athletic skill set through hard work.”
The Raptors will need contributions from all over. The Suburban East Conference is shaping up to be a battle, and an East Ridge rival said he believes the Woodbury school could challenge for the top spot.
“East Ridge could surprise some people this year,” Stillwater coach Jake Smothers said. “They may be young, but they’re very skilled and talented.”
Stillwater and Mounds View, last year’s top two teams, will be clear contenders once again. Roseville, Woodbury and Park are also going to be tough to beat.
“The Suburban East Conference could turn out to be the most competitive in the state this year,” Bidwell said.