The high school fall sports season has already reached its halfway point in some sports. With tryouts and two-a-day practices that began Aug. 14 and section play-offs commencing during the second week of October for tennis and soccer, Como’s student athletes are absorbed by the whirlwind of activity and competition that accompanies the start of the academic year.
As leaves change their colors and temperatures fall, school spirit rises. For most individuals and teams, the hard work started before August. The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) grants players the ability to voluntarily train with their teammates and coaches during June and July, excluding the Fourth of July week.
Given those summer months to develop fitness and technique, with team formation, tactics and bonding emerging before the State Fair, the end of September finds teams hitting their stride with the most meaningful games and events still looming on their schedule.
Here’s a mid-season update about each of Como’s fall sports teams, news about athletic facilities and a glimpse of what has the Cougars excited as they navigate the next phase of their busy, fall sports season.
Football—The new artificial turf field inside the track at Como that had the community energized last spring is still being installed. According to the project managers, construction delays, damp conditions and street repairs pushed back the field’s Aug. 18 completion date to Oct. 11.
This has forced the Cougars’ football team to use the Murray Middle School field in St. Anthony Park and park space in front of Wellstone Elementary off Rice Street for practice while continuing to play “home” games at other schools.
Despite the disappointment and inconvenience, a strong senior class led by Donnie Ventrelli, Robert Adams, Will Wooten, Lumin Johnson, Tim Simmons, JayViar Johnson and Patrick Corneia had the Cougars with an undefeated record as the Bugle went to press. Their leadership and focus on every team member improving every day is evidence of maturity in a frustrating facilities situation.
The season-opening shellacking of Harding, a 50-13 victory after racing to a 37-0 halftime lead, served notice that Como would be a tough team to beat in the Twin Cities Red Sub-District. Following that game, Adams and Lumin Johnson were featured on WFNU 94.1 FM’s “High School Sports Talk.”
In their interview, the two discussed how much the team was looking forward to the Oct. 13 season-finale matchup against Minneapolis North, the defending State Class A Champions. “It’ll be good to challenge ourselves against the best and see where we stand after working all year,” Johnson said.
Boys’ soccer—After a summer that included community service, voluntary training and fundraising to supplement a coaching staff for a program of 80 players on four competitive teams (Varsity, JV, B-team and C-team), the Cougars kicked off their official season on the pitch competing against challenging nonconference opponents.
For the varsity team, that included Austin, a perennial state power from southern Minnesota. The biennial trip downstate originated in 2007, when the Kingsriter family opened their farmhouse near Lanesboro to the team for a campout when their sons, Andrew and Nate, were captains for the Cougars.
The tradition has continued to bless teams with an opportunity to bond in a rural setting away from distractions, developing chemistry through outdoor activities. This year’s team introduced Sepak Takraw to the farmhouse, a game similar to volleyball, with the twist of no hands being allowed to pass the woven ball over the net. The standard campfire with s’mores was also enjoyed.
Como Soccer will continue to be challenged in the rigorous St. Paul City Conference. The intensity and grind of the conference schedule have always been healthy preparation for the section playoffs, where the Cougars have thrived in the last five years.
Cross country—With a strong group of experienced runners on the boys’ team led by senior captains Eli Pattison, Jared Czech, Earl Eldridge and Dominic Wolters, the Cougars are optimistic about their running season. Numbers in the program are healthy overall, as 20 boys train and participate in the same meets as the 10 girls. Leading the girls are two senior veterans, Ana Caballero and Florence Uwajeneza, who have consistently been top performers for Como. They anchor a team that has several freshmen and a lot of potential.
The Cougars are looking forward to high finishes in the conference meets and setting personal records with consistent training. That training involves Saturday-morning sessions during the season. The early-morning runs are followed by breakfasts hosted by Como parents. Bonding over food is always a priority for Cougar Cross Country teams.
Girls’ soccer—Several key players returned to the varsity team that went 9-6-2 in 2016, but the Cougars will still feature a young side that includes three sophomores and two freshmen in the starting lineup. The underclassmen will be guided by the experienced leadership of senior captains Emily Forstrom and Tu Lor Eh Paw and junior captain Gigi Gabrielli.
The soccer girls had already posted a record of 3 wins and 1 loss as the Bugle went to press. They’ve also had several fun events to bring all the girls in the program closer together, including a “selfie scavenger hunt” throughout Como Regional Park. The team also toured the U of M over the summer, met with academic advisers and trained with the Gophers’ women’s soccer team. As for the rest of the 2017 season, the Cougars are looking forward to the competition of the city conference where they will encounter friendly rivals throughout St. Paul.
Volleyball—Forty girls in Como’s volleyball program are playing on three teams: Varsity, JV and C-team. The weeks of practice before school also included labor at the Minnesota State Fair for fundraising purposes. The team received rave reviews from fair staff about their work ethic and attitude. Coach Jill Bachmann is confident those traits will carry over to the court and help the young team develop.
Volleyball captains for this season include seniors Grace Commers and Marie Heeh. The addition of an Italian foreign exchange student, junior Solé Maria Chiaramonti has bolstered the depth of the varsity roster.
Girls’ swimming—The swimmers at Como are part of a cooperative program with Johnson High School. The girls train together at Como and have created friendships beyond their school walls. Cooperative programs are common in St. Paul. The Highland/St. Paul Academy program has been united since the early 1990s. Humboldt and Washington are two other St. Paul City Conference teams that have merged. Como senior Adrianna Tarver is the captain for the Como/Johnson team.
Girls’ tennis—Numbers are higher this year with 16 girls in the program. The Cougars’ roster was fortified when a group of friends who had never played organized tennis before decided they would give it a try. The choice has brought increased enthusiasm and energy to everyone and the players are supporting each other in all of their matches. A newly formed doubles team playing an exhibition match is receiving the same encouragement and morale boost from teammates as a top singles player in the varsity match does.
The team captains are seniors Shyann Salverda and Granda Sayavong. They alternate playing the top singles spots along with junior Victoria Hartwich-Cedillo. The team is looking forward to improving throughout the season and to further developing friendships through team dinners and events.
Eric Erickson is a social studies teacher at Como Park High School and a longtime coach of school and youth sports in St. Paul.