State tournament is a kick for Washburn

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey posed for pictures with Washburn High School students
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey posed for pictures with Washburn High School students during the boys soccer team’s state semifinals game Oct. 29 at U.S. Bank Stadium. Hundreds of students, parents, alumni and community members were in attendance. The Millers lost 2-0 to Edina. Submitted photo

As Washburn High School’s boys soccer team ran onto the field for pregame warmups, senior Ethan Buss sat in the front row of U.S. Bank Stadium, cheering alongside his classmates.

“We always have to support our team,” he said, explaining why he came to the Millers’ state tournament semifinals game against Edina. “We do what we can.”

Buss, a longtime Millers soccer fan, was among the hundreds of students who skipped afternoon classes Oct. 29 for the game. The Millers were competitive but lost 2–0 on a pair of second-half goals.

School leaders said a majority of Washburn students and staff planned on attending. Hundreds more parents, community members, alumni and family members were also present. Many donned the school colors: blue and orange.

“People are really excited,” junior Hayden Brown said.

Washburn students began filling up a section in the stadium’s northwest corner in the hour before kickoff. Many wore white T-shirts that said, “Cash it in at the Bank.”

Junior Nora Grant was attending her first soccer game of the year and said she likes the “community aspect.” A few rows away, girls soccer team manager Marjie Johnson attended the latest in a season of games.

“Soccer has gotten so much more popular at Washburn over the past 4–6 years,” she said.

Washburn was once a relative soccer powerhouse, making six state tournaments between 1980 and 1989.

The Millers then went 26 years without an appearance, before making another in 2015. They have won more than two-thirds of their games over the past four years. Coach Aaron Percy has attributed the resurgence in part to increased numbers of students trying out for the sport.

This year, Washburn won 16 of 20 games before the state semifinals, including an overtime victory in the quarterfinals. 

Booster club co-chair Janel Schliemann, whose son Ben is a junior, said it had been fun to see the support the team had received in recent weeks. She said the soccer program has generated interest among students the past few years by hosting summer camps and “Future Miller” nights, among other activities.

She and other parents chalked up the state tournament run to hard work and team chemistry.

“They’re playing for each other,” parent Marianne Cassels said. “It’s a positive vibe.”

Longtime junior varsity coach Eric Adams sat near the student section during the game, wearing a Washburn-branded scarf and chef’s hat. He said he thought the school would be a “ghost town” and said a sizeable Washburn contingency had driven to Lindstrom, Minnesota, to watch the quarterfinals.

Longtime English teacher Jim Schmit sat with other school staff at U.S. Bank Stadium, sporting a green-brimmed hat that had half a soccer ball on top. He wore a T-shirt with a picture of senior co-captain Darley Florvil on it. The Star Tribune recently named Florvil the top player in the metro area.

Washburn fans remained optimistic throughout the first half, which included a Millers kick that ricocheted off a shot of a crossbar in the 31st minute. At one point, Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff and Mayor Jacob Frey led the student section in cheers.

After a second half in which Edina scored twice, Percy credited the Hornets’ defense for their effort. The result wasn’t ideal, but Adams said there’s still hope for next year.

“The JV and sophomore teams each only lost one game this year,” he said. “The expectation is we will be good the next couple years.”