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Soccer finds a way

As the summer heat picks up and the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, soccer players in Austin are still finding a way to feed their passion.

With the Austin Youth Soccer Association cancelling its summer season, college and high school players in town have taken it upon themselves to organize small scrimmages at Wescott Athletic Complex throughout the week.

Anga Lual, who just finished his senior year at Austin along with Austin grad Sam Bailey, who just finished his sophomore season at Luther College, have served as the organizers of the get togethers. They’ve made it their mission to make sure the Packer soccer program stays as dominant as it has been in the last three years, when Austin has gone to the Minnesota Class A State Tournament three times and taken third place twice.

Anga thinks the best is yet to come for the Packers.

“In the next coming years, Austin is going to be a really big name,” Anga said. “We have many people from many backgrounds who bring a lot of talent. We are united. That diversity makes us better.”

Anga was a key player for the Packers this past fall and he plans on continuing his soccer career at Riverland Community College next season. He was drawn to soccer by his older brother Abi, a former Packer standout, and he is now hoping his younger sister Anna, takes up the sport as well. Abi and Anna, a second grader at Banfield, were both working out at Wescott on Wednesday.

“My brother originally started it and as a kid I looked up to him. I wanted to do what he did and that’s why I started playing soccer. I want to keep going,” Anga said. “This gets our mind off the pandemic and it gets everybody’s spirit up. They aren’t able to play soccer this summer and that gets everybody down. We’re trying to make it so that the kids aren’t missing out on their favorite things. We want to make it fun for everybody.”

Wednesday’s session brought out some current and former Packer standouts. Austin grad and Riverland player Elton Tolbert was on hand, along with Austin keeper Casey Berg and Andres Garcia, a dangerous scorer for the Packers last fall.

Baile’s Luther team played in the Division III National quarterfinals last season. He’s impressed by the soccer talent he sees every time he comes back to Austin.

“One big thing that has impacted Austin is the diversity,” Bailey said. “There’s a lot more guys coming out and competing hard. They come out here on their own and I think that just raises the soccer level a lot.”

Bailey played in seven games and had two shots last season for the Norse, which finished 17-5-3 overall. He has a lot of knowledge to drop on the players of Austin.

“A big lesson that I can teach these guys is to play smart soccer,” Bailey said. “All of the little things really add up, like being in the right position at the right time and moving the ball the right way. Keep it on the ground with quick passes instead of balls over the top.”

As the pandemic continues, there is no certainty of a high school or college soccer season in the fall. However, the players who have been hitting the soccer field this summer are always going to find a way to play the sport they love.

The summer scrimmages include small nets without keepers and quick games to two goals. The losers are rewarded with a set of push ups and the winners are given bragging rights. There were no coaches, no refs, no fans and no medals — just soccer and a whole lot of sweat.

“We just want to come out here and have fun,” Anga said. “We want to keep it up so next year we aren’t slacking. There is a lot of talent here.”