In the grand scheme of high school sports, rankings are fun but essentially meaningless. A reason for debate, a badge of honor, but little more.
For the Holy Angels boys’ soccer team, however, being ranked No. 1 in Class 1A this season is far from weightless. For the Stars, it’s vindication, it’s validation and it’s justification. It’s also just the beginning.
“Being ranked No. 1 is something we’ve worked very hard for,” senior defender Will Czachor said. “It’s important to us and something we’d hate to lose.”
Before anyone starts thinking the Stars suffer from a priority deficiency, a little history is in order.
In each of the past two seasons, Holy Angels began play unranked. In 2014, the Stars rose to No. 2 at midseason, raising hopes of state tournament success. But they lost to Blake — a team they had defeated during the regular season — in the Section 3 semifinals.
Things started similarly this year. Despite having 12 players back from a 2014 team that finished 14-3-1, Holy Angels was overlooked when the first set of rankings was released. That slight proved to be strong motivation.
“I don’t put much stock in preseason rankings but I know my guys pay attention,” coach Ben Bushman said. “Knowing the potential this team had, they were a little disappointed in not being ranked at the start of the season.”
So far, they’ve turned that disappointment into a positive. After a 4-0 rout of Brooklyn Center on Tuesday, Holy Angels was 11-0-2. The Stars count highly regarded programs such as Blake, Benilde-St. Margaret’s and nearby rival Minneapolis Washburn among their victories. The Stars’ two ties have been by identical 1-1 scores against Class 1A’s No. 3 Hermantown and No. 7 St. Thomas Academy. The defense has given up just five goals, no more than one in any game.
“The defense is about organization and communication,” the speedy Czachor said. “We’ve played some close games. We need to be smart.”
As with any top-ranked team, the recipe for success is more than one part excellence. Stars senior Christian Deaconson, a game-controlling midfielder, has ball skills and game savvy that can quickly turn defense into offense. When he does, senior forward Ben Becker is a more than capable closer. Becker leads the team with 16 goals, yet is still largely overlooked as a dangerous scorer.
“I’m always shocked when I get the ball and I see teams leave Ben wide open,” said Deaconson, who has committed to play at Division I Hartford next year. “It also makes me very happy.”
For his part, the affable Becker understands that as the Stars’ profile continues to rise, he’s going to get more attention from opponents.
“I kind of liked being a little bit under the radar,” he said. “Having the No. 1 ranking kind of puts a target on our backs. Now that we have it, we have to keep proving ourselves, reminding everyone why we’re there.”
Bushman cited the victory over Washburn as a sign that this team has the makeup for a deep run in the postseason. Becker scored the game’s only goal with 18 seconds left in regulation.
“That was probably our biggest victory,” Bushman said. “It showed the confidence and belief we have in ourselves.”
The Stars finish the regular season with three home games before embarking on what they are confident will be a lengthy playoff run.
Said Czachor: “We’re a close team and we enjoy each other, but we’re serious about our soccer.”