Polars’ talent purge

North St. Paul boys’ soccer coach Casey Holm got surprising and unpleasant news when star players Ata Claremond and Gladymir Jeudi moved back to their native Haiti. Their departure leaves a massive talent void. Claremond, the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, excelled at forward while Jeudi was a maestro in the midfield. The Polars, winners of the 2013 Class 2A title, “don’t’ really talk about those two,” Holm said. “They have embraced that this is their group.” Goalkeeper Kearby Larson and forward Kenlove Solon are the Polars’ two returning varsity players. Center back Erik Kubiatowicz, whose older brother Jake won the discus throw state title last spring, is known for long throw-ins.

Haakenson honored

Maple Grove center midfielder Meredith Haakenson was the only Minnesotan named to the American Family Insurance ALL-USA Preseason Girls’ Soccer Team. A total of 27 players were chosen from states that compete in the fall season. Haakenson was the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior last fall. She committed to Michigan as a sophomore. The talented Crimson return most of the impact players from a team that led eventual state champion Centennial 2-1 late in the Class 2A, Section 5 final. Maddie Rayta was an All-Northwest Suburban Conference selection. Mia Omar is committed to Florida International and Zyah Alam and Lexi Miller are committed to North Dakota. Mannon McMahon is headed to Minnesota Duluth’s hockey program.

Charting the champs

Four teams won titles last fall at the first soccer state championships held at U.S. Bank Stadium. They return with varying amounts of experience. Nine starters back in the fold makes Benilde-St. Margaret’s the favorite to repeat as Class 1A girls’ champs. Seven players who started the Class 2A title game for the Centennial girls’ program return. The ranks are thinner on the boys’ side. St. Thomas Academy begins its 1A title defense with six holdovers. In 2A, Stillwater will build on a group of five returners.

Healing the hurt

The boys’ soccer programs at Minnehaha Academy and Lakeville North are playing through the pain this fall. The Aug. 2 explosion at Minnehaha severely injured assistant soccer coach Bryan Duffey. His right leg was amputated at the knee. One day later, Lakeville North senior goalkeeper Joey Dokken died unexpectedly in his sleep. His death followed the loss in January of assistant coach Seamus Tritchler to cancer. “Our program is going to be focused on healing and honoring those two this season, and we will see how the soccer pans out,” Panthers coach Peter Tyma said. A similar purpose drives Minnehaha. “Bryan’s wife told me the best way to honor him and show him we’re thinking about him is to go out and do what we’ve worked on and continuing to play,” coach Steve Barone said earlier in August. Duffey has since come to watch the Redhawks play.