The 2021 fall season was a great season for the Orono boys soccer team.
The Spartans went 20-1-1 on the season and capped it off by winning the Class 2A state championship with a 1-0 win over Holy Angels on Nov. 6.
For that great season, head coach Derek Engler was honored with the 2021 Fall Great Lakes Boys High School Coach of the Year award by the United Soccer Coaches Association. He was also named the United Soccer Coaches Association Minnesota Public School Coach of the Year.
“It was an awesome season,” Engler said.
Engler, who is a 2005 Orono graduate and has coached the Spartans since 2009, had to fill out a form after his nomination in October listing his accomplishments. After that, he went on to guide his team to the state title and forgot about the nomination.
“I did that in October and didn’t hear anything for awhile and didn’t think anything of it,” Engler said. “I was pretty surprised and I don’t like to notify others that I got honored so I sent it to the AD.”
The honor is a testament to Engler’s coaching but also to the success the team had this year.
Going into the season, Engler and the team had wanted to build on a successful 2020 season. For the 2020 season, Orono went 11-2-2, but there was no post season because of the pandemic.
“We went into this season as unfinished business because we weren’t able to play in the tournament last year,” Engler said. “That was on the team’s mind the whole season.”
Going forward with that mindset, Orono had 17 seniors returning for the 2021 season.
“We knew we had senior leadership and experience on the team,” Engler said. “We just came together as a team.”
The season began with 11 straight wins before a 1-1 tie with section rival Benilde-St. Margaret’s. After that tie, Orono won another game before falling to another section rival in Breck.
They bounced back from that loss to win their final three games of the season and earn the No. 2 seed in the very competitive Class 2A, Section 2 tournament.
The section tournament consisted of the No. 1 ranked team in the state, De La Salle; No. 2 ranked Orono; and No. 8 ranked Benilde; as well as perennial powers Blake (which won two of last four state titles) and Breck high schools.
Orono opened up the section with a big win against Delano before earning 1-0 wins against both Benilde and Blake to win the section championship and qualify for the state tournament.
“We thought if we got past our section and to state we had good chance to win it all because we thought our section was harder than the state tournament would be,” Engler said. “We went into our section tourney hoping we could get to state.”
That proved to be true, as Orono defeated Byron 6-0 in the state quarterfinals to advance to playing indoors at US Bank Stadium for the semifinals. In the semifinals they defeated Willmar 3-1 before beating the defending state champion Holy Angels 1-0 in the title game.
Holy Angels won state title in 2019 and since there was no state tournament in 2020 were listed as defending state champions.
Engler has a long history with Orono soccer as he graduated as a three-time letter winner with the boys soccer team. From there, he went on the St. Thomas University where he earned All-Conference Honorable Mention honors.
He returned to the boys soccer program at Orono as an associate head coach in 2009. After three years as an associate head coach, he was named head coach after the 2011 season and has compiled a 140-37-18 record. He also won the state title in 2015.