A regular season goal difference of 120 goals in favor of undefeated Chanhassen-Chaska-Prior Lake-Shakopee, how the Southern Stars would fare in contested matches against the state's other top CI Division adapted soccer teams was up in the air.
Winning a pair of close matches to begin the 25th annual state tournament at Stillwater High School, finishing second, the Southern Stars proved they belonged.
Back in the tournament after a one-year absence, the Southern Stars, a co-op between three school districts, won 5-3 over St. Cloud Area and 6-4 over North Suburban.
Both matches were tied late in the game.
Defense was the name of the game for the Southern Stars, according to coach Brad Miller, a District 112 employee. Among the leaders was Chanhassen senior Austin Moore, who anchored the defense.
"The ball hardly even gets to our goalie sometimes between these two," Miller said to the Star Tribune about Moore and Julian Torres Cortes.
In the tournament opener Nov. 17, the match tied at two at halftime, the Southern Stars were able to outscore their opponents in the second frame. It was 5-4 for part of the second half until the Southern Stars scored late to seal the victory.
The combination of freshman Nathan Castaneda and TeeJon Gilliam was an effective one for the Southern Stars, as together they scored all six of the goals for their team, both of them recording a hat-trick in the game. Junior goalie Tyler Johnson had six saves to help his team to victory.
Versus North Suburban in the semifinals, the teams traded goals in the first half, tied again at two at the halfway point.
Even at three late, the Southern Stars scored two goals within the last two minutes to secure the victory.
Gilliam and Castaneda had two goals apiece with Drew Hennen chipping in with a goal as well. Johnson had 15 saves, while only allowing three shots to find the back of the net.
Champion Park Center, which won its third consecutive CI title, was too strong in the finals, winning 11-4.
The Southern Stars got on the board first when Gilliam finished a pass from Torres Cortes, trailing 5-3 at the break.
Park Center came out strong in the second half, scoring six straight unanswered goals. The Southern Stars would get their last goal of the game in the last minute of play, but by then the game was out of reach.
Gillaim led the way for the Southern Stars, scoring three of the team’s four goals. Sophomore Isaiah Peterson also scored and teammates Cortes and Ryan Kong both had assists in the contest.
Johnson had an active game in net, grabbing a game-high 11 saves.
Chanhassen-Chaska-Prior Lake-Shakopee went 11-0 in the regular season, leading the 10-team south division. They beat Dakota United 20-2 to advance to the state tournament.
The Southern Stars were state champions in 2011.
It is the second top-three finish in nine state appearances for the co-op.