Defining “fall” and using the term correctly within its calendar dates has always been tricky in Minnesota. Many student athletes in the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) spend significant parts of June and July preparing for their fall sports season, which officially began Aug. 17.
Here’s a preview of Como Park varsity fall sports teams and storylines to follow.
Boys soccer—The 2015 season promises to be another exciting one for the consistently strong Cougars. Captains Israel Guzman Castillo, Ryan Yang and Tyler Johnson continue the tradition of determined and skilled players leading the program. With that core, the Cougars face a challenging schedule with early nonconference opponents Hill-Murray and Mahtomedi before running the gauntlet of fierce competition in the St. Paul City Conference, followed by the Section 4A play-offs.
New to the program this year is an annual trophy game against Washington Technology Magnet. The prize will be bragging rights and a “Rice Street” sign that is adorned with each team’s colors and logo on opposite sides. Como soccer aims to compete in every game with high energy while focusing on the program motto, “Next One.”
Football—The State High School League is implementing new scheduling and competitive formats, and the effects significantly alter the Cougars’ football landscape. Football teams began practices on Aug. 10, one week earlier than all other sports. That date allowed the Cougars two short weeks to prepare for their first game against Highland Park. Harding is the only other St. Paul City team the Cougars will play this season.
For the first time in 105 years, there will be no St. Paul City Conference for football. Met with mixed reactions, the new state format is an attempt to place teams in districts that allow scheduling based on competitive balance. The Cougars are in the Twin City District and will play other opponents in the Red Sub-District, which includes Breck, Concordia Academy, Minneapolis Henry, Columbia Heights and Mound-Westonka.
Cross country —The boys and girls teams train together and share competitive goals. They run with the purpose of developing character, learning disciplined training skills, improving individually and supporting each other in a fun atmosphere. The quest to reach a personal best is a collective effort.
Leading that charge on the boys side are senior captains Geleto Roba and Tuomas Sivula. Junior Innocent Murwanashyaka and Roba could compete for top five finishes in conference and section meets if their training is consistent.
Seniors Mary Miles and Hope Helmin will captain the girls team that tied for second in the conference last season and hopes to place in the top two again. Mary Miles could be in the mix for a state meet bid, according to coach Tim Kersey.
Volleyball—The Cougars had a second-place finish in the city last season, and the goal for seven seniors that return to this team is clear: They want to take back the St. Paul City Conference title.
Seniors Delilah Wolf and Bekah Hausman are captains and key contributors as hitters and setters. Senior Emily LaCroix-Dalluhn played middle last season and led the team in kills, which is something Coach Kim Smisek is counting on her doing again to lead the offensive charge.
Three highly competitive scrimmages against top-level teams have been added to the Cougars’ schedule, as they ramp up the efforts for this special senior class to maximize their potential and create proud memories.
Girls soccer—The Lady Cougars are coming off a successful 2014 season in the St. Paul City Conference, finishing third behind Central and Highland. To move up in the standings this season Como’s attack must remain strong. Leading the offense will be senior co-captains Vanessa Acosta and Brianna Menssen. In addition, the Cougar defense must continue to be organized.
The team will rely on returning defenders to be solid technically and tactically, and incoming freshmen are expected to fill roles as needed. There is a new conference schedule format for both the boys and girls this season. Only the first round of conference games will count in the standings. This puts pressure on the Lady Cougars; traditionally they have played better in the second round of competition.
Girls tennis—Como’s tennis courts have been busy over the summer and will continue to get heavy use as both the varsity and junior varsity teams will practice or play matches there every day after school. Senior Emma Hartmann and juniors Mira Kammueller and Lizzy Larson earned All-Conference Honorable Mention last season and will serve as captains this season (see photo). After a fifth-place finish in 2014, the girls will work to climb up a level or two on the conference ladder and also play strongly against the suburban and private school competition they’ll meet during the season and in the section tournament.
Girls swimming—The swim team placed third in the St. Paul City last season. Given the fact that several key swimmers have departed the program, the goal of improving throughout the season to keep that position is a realistic one for the squad’s 12 participants, according to coach Steve Conery.
Senior Lia Chin-Purcell will return as a captain and will continue to inspire teammates with her consistent work ethic and impressive times in several events, including the freestyle sprints. Senior Ellie Thorsgaard will share leadership responsibilities as a co-captain and contribute in multiple individual and relay events.
Eric Erickson is a social studies teacher at Como Park Senior High School and a longtime coach of school and youth sports in St. Paul. Follow twitter @eestp for current school sports news.