Add a trip to U.S. Bank Stadium for the Class 1A boys' soccer state tournament semifinals to the list of enjoyable firsts for the Pine Island/Zumbrota-Mazeppa program.

The accolades keep piling up. The fifth-seeded Wildcats head into their 5 p.m. Wednesday game against No. 1 seed Southwest Christian unbeaten at 17-0-2. That has never happened. They won the Hiawatha Valley League. Also something new. And they finally beat fellow southern Minnesota programs Rochester Lourdes and Winona during the season.

Not so fresh, however, is the need for Pine Island/Zumbrota-Mazeppa to introduce itself on a larger soccer stage. Coach Rafal Konik recalled starting a traveling soccer program eight years ago, when a relatively unknown PIZM program began entering Twin Cities tournaments.

"You'd get asked, 'PIZM, where's that?' " said Konik, who helped expand the number of traveling teams from one boys' team at the beginning to a combined eight boys' and girls' teams in 2019.

PIZM benefits from a trio of scoring threats in Dan Mikaeo (16 goals), Drew Christopherson (13) and Christopher Tree (12). A massive shakeup to the postseason slate didn't hurt, either.

The addition of a third class cleared the Wildcats' path. Larger schools Austin and Byron moved up to Class 2A. Additional shuffling moved PIZM to Section 2, away from Rochester Lourdes in Section 1. The Eagles won their section and play at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the other semifinal.

"Everything is new on our journey," Konik said. "We're trying to enjoy it as well as continuing to learn and improve. For the families of the younger players in our communities, they have more hope. They can say, 'Look at Pine Island/Zumbrota-Mazeppa. If they can get this far, maybe we can someday.' "

Final four familiarity

Playoff upsets hit boys' soccer programs like an anvil. Particularly in Class 3A, where Duluth East, the eighth-ranked team in the final coaches' poll, is the lone top-10 team still alive. The No. 2 seed Greyhounds play at 10 a.m. Wednesday against unseeded Rosemount in the day's second semifinal.

Conversely, the final four teams among Class 3A girls programs simply copied and pasted their regular season-ending rankings into their state tournament seeds: No. 1 Edina, followed by Centennial, Rosemount and Stillwater.

Which gives Stillwater coach Mike Huber a unique perspective. His Ponies are the only team to have played the three other semifinalists. They lost each time. But Huber feels the experience meant a great deal.

"We felt as coaches all along that playing our tough schedule bodes well for us in the section and state playoffs because our players would see the type of level they need to compete at," Huber said.

Led by all-state selections Marisa Bonilla and CJ Fredkove, the Ponies face undefeated Edina at 8 a.m. Thursday.

"I think losing to all these teams the first time," Huber said, "gives us a little extra motivation."