Coach Bulut Ozturk knows how slim the margin for error can be, and how close his Eagan girls’ soccer team came to realizing that harsh reality last fall.
“You think about it, we were down 1-0 with three minutes left to Park High School in the [Section 3] semifinal,” he said. “We lose that game — well, we lose that game and we’re not talking about this right now.”
This would be Eagan’s historic 2014 season, made possible by a come-from-behind 2-1 overtime victory over Park of Cottage Grove, and a handful of other dramatic victories just like it. Bottom line: The Wildcats were bound to have some close calls during their run to a 21-0-1 season, a Class 2A state title, a No. 1 Midwest Region ranking, and a No. 4 overall national ranking from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
“This is a funny game like that,” Ozturk said. “Anything can happen. … But those girls were determined. They had high expectations and stayed very focused, and they got it done.”
And now, nine months removed from Eagan’s 1-0 victory over Eden Prairie in last fall’s championship match, the Wildcats are hoping to do it all over again.
Eagan returns 16 of the 22 players from its 2014 roster, including one of its two goalkeepers, its leading scorer, and four captains ready to carry on the program’s momentum.
“We definitely still feel that momentum, and the girls are ready to get going,” Ozturk said.
The soccer season officially opens Aug. 17 with the first day of practices. The Wildcats have kept their training fairly light this summer — playing pickup games and going through the usual slate of summer camps.
For Ozturk it’s a nice change of pace from last season’s frantic start.
The coach for Lakeville North for three seasons, Ozturk was a late arrival to Eagan last summer. He had left the Panthers’ program for an opportunity to coach in college, before abruptly having second thoughts. His heart was still in coaching at the high school level, he said, but his vacated post in Lakeville already had been filled by the time he came to that decision.
“They had the opening here, and I was lucky to be able to throw my name in the ring for it,” he said.
He called it a great fit for him, and the program quickly took shape.
“I knew from seeing them and talking with the previous coach that there was a lot of talent here,” he said. “They were saying they wanted to make it to state, and we [the coaching staff] were thinking there was the potential for far more than that.”
Then the Wildcats started winning — and kept winning. Their ball possession style of play led to a stingy defense; they gave up just nine goals in 22 games, none in the state tournament.
Eagan will play a similar style this season, and, loaded with talent, appears to be poised for another run. Co-captain Jade King, an all-state selection last year, has committed to play at Texas Tech. Last year’s leading scorer, Taylor Kenealy, another all-state player, will play at Minnesota State Mankato. The team’s other three co-captains — Sydney Sherek, Anni Christenson and Jordyn Clark — also will play large roles.
“There are a lot of very good, very talented teams out there,” Ozturk said. “We know we’ll have a bit of a target on our backs. Anything can happen. It’s a funny game. But we also have some pretty high hopes.”