U15 Strikers defend state soccer title

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 28, 2003

Coming into this season, the odds were against a return trip to the state tournament for the Austin Strikers 15-and-under boys' soccer team.

While they were the state champions in 2002, this summer saw the Strikers move up a level from the Classic Three to the Classic Two division. They would also have to work with having 13 year-olds on their squad for the first time.

"Our expectations weren't as high this year," said head coach Steve Modaff. "We had some of our core guys coming back, but we knew we'd be putting a lot of younger guys out on the field."

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The uncertainty surrounding a new division and new players didn't dampen the team's competitive drive at all though.

"The goal that they chose at the beginning of the year was to get back to state," Modaff said.

Austin went out and lived up to its preseason prediction, racking up a 14-2 record over the course of the summer -- including a win at the Lakeville tournament.

The Strikers compiled a 10-2 mark in South District play as well, good enough for first place and an automatic berth in the state tournament.

Austin also had little trouble integrating the 13-year-olds. They were able to mesh with the older players, a number of whom gained valuable experience playing for Austin High School last fall.

"We've got a pretty well-balanced team," said assistant coach Vern Lippert.

"We play a Brazilian style," Modaff said. "We use a four-deep backline, build up the attack from the defense, and move it up the field using patience and precise passing.

"We're not going to just fling the ball and chase it."

Bloomington will join the Strikers as the other state representative from the South District, which stretches as far north as the Twin Cities area.

The eight-team round-robin state tournament begins this Saturday at the National Sports Center in Blaine. Austin opens against at 1 p.m. against the Northwest Kickers, who, despite a 5-5-2 record, captured a No. 2 seed by winning the West District.

The Strikers play again Sunday at 1 p.m. against East two-seed Chippewa Falls, another squad that overcame a mediocre regular season by running the table at districts.

Austin finishes up round-robin play next Friday against North Suburban, the other number-one seed besides the Strikers in the four-team group. The winners from both brackets will then meet Saturday, Aug. 2, in the championship game.

Despite a dominating regular season performance, the Strikers don't plan on getting complacent any time soon.

"Anything can happen in the playoffs, so we know we'll have to be ready," Lippert said.