Emma Meyer’s voice fills with excitement when she talks about the fall soccer season.
At St. Anthony High School, she’s not alone in her enthusiasm. The senior is one of more than 100 St. Anthony girls and boys getting ready for the school’s inaugural soccer season. Only about 45 players participated in St. Anthony’s co-op with Spring Lake Park last fall, but growing enrollment and increased interest in local youth and travel soccer programs had some St. Anthony community members thinking it was time for the school to start its own program.
On Nov. 1, the St. Anthony-New Brighton school district voted to dissolve the co-op after 25 years.
The initial plan called for offering varsity and JV teams for both the girls and boys, but so many players signed up that additional B-squad teams were formed as well. The addition of six teams has created a logistical challenge for St. Anthony athletic director Troy Urdahl, but he considers it a good problem to have. The teams will play games at Denison Stadium and are splitting other practice time between nearby Wilshire Park Elementary School, Central Park in St. Anthony and the National Sports Center in Blaine.
“The jump has been even more dramatic than we predicted, which is a good thing,” Urdahl said. “We wanted anyone who wanted to play to have that ability, so the teams didn’t do any cuts. The kids are excited to be a part of something big and be a part of a lot of firsts.”
That’s the excitement that brought Meyer back to soccer after choosing to play volleyball the past three years. Meyer is one of several new St. Anthony players who were part of a state champion travel soccer team over the summer, but had elected not to play high school soccer in recent years because of the co-op.
“We had to take the bus to practices and the games were at Spring Lake Park. More and more [St. Anthony] girls started quitting and saying it never felt like you were part of the team. That was at big turnoff for me,” Meyer said. “We’re excited to have our own team, our own coaches, our own field. I think all our traveling success pushed the school board to notice we deserve to have this program. This will be a great opportunity for us to demonstrate our passion for soccer in our school.”
That desire to prove themselves is mirrored by the players on the Huskies’ boys’ team, which returns three varsity contributors from last year’s co-op team that reached a section final. Senior captain Luke Pauly said representing the community will be another major source of motivation for the Huskies.
“We have a lot more school pride put into this. There’s already more people pushing for us to do well. We didn’t have as much of that when we were with Spring Lake Park,” Pauly said. “We haven’t had a game yet, but I’m pretty positive we’ll have more fans out there than in years past.”
The Huskies will start their new programs with new head coaches. Former amateur league player Hanz Lehrke takes over the boys after serving as assistant and head coach at several area schools. Whitney Fenne heads up the girls’ team after two years as an assistant coach at Forest Lake. Lehrke was Fenne’s head coach a decade ago when she was a goalkeeper for the Rangers.
“We’re working on the programs together, helping develop the younger kids and getting the older kids working hard. It’s a tight-knit community, and it’s cool that way,” Lehrke said. “It’s a neat opportunity with such a small school having such a large number of kids coming out. It speaks to the excitement in the community.”
Both Huskies teams headed north for scrimmages this weekend. The girls program will make its debut at home Aug. 28 against Maranatha Christian.
“We’re hoping for a good turnout and to get the crowd riled up,” Meyer said. “It’s going to be one of the best feelings ever, playing with my girls and putting everything out there.”
The St. Anthony boys travel to Minneapolis South for a match Aug. 30 before making their Denison Stadium debut Sept. 5.
“It’s going to be different not being in Spring Lake Park,” Pauly said. “It’s gonna feel like home.”