After a couple of near misses the last two seasons, the Groton boys’ soccer team is hoping that it can climb to the pinnacle of the sport this fall.
Fresh off of back-to-back State A runner-up finishes at the club level, the Tigers (9-3) enter this year’s first-ever South Dakota High School Activities Association sanctioned state tournament as the second seed with a whole new cast of characters. Groton will play No. 3 Sioux Falls O’Gorman at 8 tonight in the state semifinals at Swisher Field in Aberdeen.
The Groton squad not only features local players who competed in those title games, but also has an international flavor this season thanks to a half dozen players from Myanmar and another player from Germany.
“It took a little bit to integrate them into our style of play,” said Groton coach Mike Becker, “but we’re getting pretty close to where we need to be right now.”
Becker said the strength of his squad is team chemistry and how well the players get along.
“We have a lot of individual talent, but it takes (more) to make it work,” Becker said.
The Tigers are led in scoring by German player Nikolai Pyatt, but he is far from the only weapon on the team.
“We really don’t depend on any one person at all to do it for us,” Becker said.
Groton’s defense has also been a factor throughout the season and has played a key role in wins against larger schools. The Tigers have recorded four shutouts this season and have allowed more than two goals in a game only once.
“Our defense has been pretty solid all year long,” Becker noted.
One of Groton’s three setbacks this season came to unbeaten and top-seeded Sioux Falls Christian. While Becker figures that the Sioux Falls squad will be the favorite, he quickly added, “It’s a matter of who shows up to play on what given day.”
After losing in shootouts in each of the last two state championship matches, Becker does not need to remind his players how close they have come to winning it all.
“It actually came up again last (week) at practice,” Becker said. “They remember those things. Those things don’t go away. It’s a self-motivator for them.”
The Tigers enter the state tourney on a six-match winning streak. The only thing that has put a slight damper on this year’s late-season surge has been a rash of injuries. In its final regular-season match, Groton had two players on crutches and another one unable to play.
“We’re banged up pretty bad,” Becker said. “Last week was brutal on us.”
Still, the Tigers are talented, motivated and with a blend of local and foreign skills, figure to be a tough out this weekend.
“I think the kids’ confidence is high and their determination is there,” Becker said, “so I think it will be a good tournament.”