For the first time in program history the Brainerd Warriors have received the No. 1 seed in the Section 8-2A boys soccer tournament.
The top-seeded Warriors will host No. 4 Elk River in the semifinals of the section at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Southdale Field in Baxter.
First-year head coach Tony Smith thought the Warriors deserved to be one of the higher seeds and doesn't consider being No. 1 an albatross.
"I thought we were deserving of top three," he said. "We had a very favorable record against our section opponents (5-0-0). I thought that put us in good position to get top three. Certainly, we don't have the best record in the group (7-7-2 overall), but we certainly played well at the right time."
Brainerd's previous highest seed was No. 2 in 2006. The Warriors have won an opening-round game only once in program history (1-0 win over Fergus Falls in 2008).
"We're certainly very excited," Smith said. "We haven't had a lot of success in section tournaments, but I do sense a lot of enthusiasm. I don't think there's a lot of pressure right now because we just haven't been in this situation a lot. We've had good practices. The guys are motivated. They're ready to come out and perform well."
Elk River's 9-10-0 overall record may be a bit deceiving. The Elks compiled a 5-5-0 mark in the Northwest Suburban Conference, which includes Centennial, Osseo, Maple Grove, Robbinsdale Armstrong, Anoka, Champlin Park, Andover, Blaine, Park Center and Coon Rapids.
"We're certainly very excited,"
"We haven't had a lot of success in section tournaments, but I do sense a lot of enthusiasm."
Tony Smith, head coach
Brainerd and Elk River did not play in the regular season. The Warriors had a bye in the opening round Saturday, while the Elks eliminated No. 5 St. Cloud Tech 5-1.
"I don't know a lot about them," Smith said, "but I did read the last article regarding the Elk River-Tech game, and it certainly looked like they have one player who's a standout, (Devin Chuba). He played a good game, he had a hat trick and assist."
Elk River is led in scoring by junior Ryan Ness with 12 goals and 10 assists. Chuba, a senior, has 9 goals and 4 assists. Senior Antanas Karagyaurov has 7 and 4. Senior keeper Joey Petrich compiled a 1.3 goals-against average, .804 save percentage and three shutouts in 15 games.
"If they have three guys who have good numbers we'll have to play good team defense," Smith said. "We've done that all year so I'm not too worried about that."
Tylor Bouchard leads Brainerd in scoring with 6 goals and 3 assists but the Warriors spread their offense around.
"One nice thing about our team is out of 20 guys we've had nine score goals, and nine contribute with an assist," Smith said. "We play well as a team. We don't have one guy we rely on, which I guess is good and bad. We certainly have enough key components to help us win games when we need to."
Keeper Matt Benson has played in all but one game. He has recorded five shutouts and 120 saves and also has an assist.
"He's been great," Smith said. "He's gotten better every game. He's a tremendous presence back there. He's very strong. He plays good solid defense so we feel confident.
"He's nimble and quick. He has fast hands, and that seems to help. If he's not moving his feet his hands are at least moving fast."
The Brainerd/Elk River winner will play the No. 2 Moorhead/No. 3 Fergus Falls winner for the section championship at 7:30 p.m. Friday at St. Cloud State University.
Mike Bialka, sports editor, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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