Minnehaha Academy boys’ soccer players couldn’t get too comfortable honing their respective positions at practices this season.
First-year Redhawks coach Steven Barone just might switch them around. Even the team’s leading scorer, senior attacker Matthew Gibbons, got moved around the field.
“I’ve played defense with one of our other center backs in practice to see like what it’s like playing defense and how I can get around that playing forward,” Gibbons said.
It helped since the Redhawks implemented a new system this season. Players digested a plethora of new formations early on, which they adapted and switched up in games.
“I’ve asked them to just do things they weren’t used to,” Barone said. “It could have gone either way.”
Minnehaha Academy completed a 10-4-2 regular season and players had their sights set on a big postseason run. But those hopes came to a surprising end last Thursday when they lost 1-0 against 12th-seeded Brooklyn Center in the first round of the Class 1A, Section 5 playoffs.
The team established a foundation with Barone, who grew up in the South and played for a Florida high school powerhouse in the late 1990s. He chose football for college, though, and was a kicker at Rutgers. After injuries stymied his competitive aspirations, he returned to soccer for coaching. Redhawks players developed an appreciation for Barone’s soccer knowledge from a region that is a soccer hotbed.
“Their season is much longer, so they play about 30 games down there,” Gibbons said. “We played 16. That’s one of the biggest differences on why the level’s higher down there.”
Barone’s emphasis on building a family-like culture created more buy-in for the Redhawks. Players did homework together and hung out together outside of soccer.
“We want to win as a team, [but] we don’t want to win by not being together,” Gibbons said. “We don’t want to win by being a bunch of individuals.”
Barone also had the team adopt the motto “absolute loyalty,” which the players wear on the back of their team shirts.
“It’s absolute loyalty to our team,” Gibbons said.
Players stuck together after a 2-2 start. Minnehaha Academy closed the regular season with five victories and two ties in its final seven contests.
Goal scoring, an issue early on, picked up in late September. Senior midfielder Tommy Flinn had six goals and an assist in a three-game span, including a 6-0 victory over Hastings on Sept. 27. Second on the team for goals, Flinn missed the previous season after transferring from Edina.
“He’s been a big player for us this year,” senior center midfielder Steven Johnson said.
Johnson had three goals and four assists this season. He also worked with younger players to keep the new midfield formations working.
“We have a lot of young guys that have played way more this year,” Johnson said.
Senior center back Elliott Dorow Hovland led a defense that lost three of last year’s starters. He guided the younger players, which led to allowing 0.94 goals per game.
“We’re talking, and we’re shutting it down,” Dorow Hovland said.
Collin Steele led in goal with a .913 save percentage. The senior goalkeeper also had five shutouts.
Gibbons complemented Steele with a team-leading 13 goals and nine assists. That combo kept the Redhawks close every match. Only defending Class 1A state runner-up Breck defeated the Redhawks by more than two goals, coming away with a 3-0 victory on Sept. 15.
“That was tough, but we learned a lot when we fail[ed],” Gibbons said. “That’s what helped us come together and have the season that we’ve been having.”