Night in, night out.
It wasn’t a season of flashy streaks, or of relying on just one player to break down opposing defenses.
Instead, consistently sharp play paved the way for the Andover boys soccer team in the regular season, leading to a Northwest Surburban Conference championship, and dreams of loftier playoff goals ahead.
“They played outstanding! As coaches we were most impressed with how they played well every game of the season,” Andover head coach John Schlichtmann said. “Even in the losses, they played very good soccer.”
The Huskies went 8-8-1 a year ago. But the signs were present, and the talent returning, to make the team expect they could put together a much stronger run, a run like this, when the fall began.
“We absolutely were,” Schlichtmann said. “This is a special group of players. They are physically gifted and also very intelligent players.
“The leadership is very impressive this year. They push themselves every day. As coaches, we haven’t had to be that voice. Our challenge has been more to get them to not always expect perfection and to work through the tough times together.”
The tough times were scarce in terms of results, if not competition.
After an early non-conference loss to Woodbury in August, Andover only dropped one match in an 11-1-1 Northwest Suburban Conference campaign, finishing the regular season 13-2-1.
Still, the conference championship served as more of a means to a larger goal rather than an endpoint, making sure that the path to the Section 7AA title will run through Andover.
“It’s a very tough conference,” Schlichtmann said. “It’s nice to win it, but we are much more focused on trying to return to the state tournament. The best way to do that was to get the No. 1 seed. Centennial kept winning, so we knew we had to as well.”
Andover clinched the NWSC title in its regular season finale Oct. 3, taking down Champlin Park 4-1.
Then, in the section quarterfinals Oct. 8, the Huskies breezed past No. 8 seed Cambridge-Isanti 8-1. That put Andover in the Oct. 10 section semifinals against No. 4 seed Forest Lake, which edged No. 5 Anoka 3-1 in its quarterfinal, with the winner advancing on to the Oct. 15 section finals against either No. 2 Centennial or No. 3 Duluth East at the site of the high seed.
Centennial won its quarterfinal match 4-0 over No. 7 Coon Rapids and Duluth East shut out No. 6 Blaine 3-0.
“We think we are very capable of getting to state and doing well if we get there,” Schlichtmann said. “The section is going to be very difficult to win. We know who we are and what our strengths are. We have to win three games to get to the tournament. We think we played our best game of the year in our last game. We are hoping to keep building from that.”
St. Francis earned the second seed in the Section 7A Tournament, with Legacy Christian the No. 8 seed and PACT the No. 10 seed.
All three were set to open postseason play Oct. 10, with the quarterfinals Oct. 12, the semifinals Oct. 15 and the championship match Oct. 17. All rounds prior to the finals are at the sites of the high seed, with the finals scheduled to be held at Duluth Denfeld.