Anoka High School and Blaine High School have a lot in common. They are among five high schools in the sprawling Anoka-Hennepin school district and they are only seven and half miles apart in the north metro. Anoka has an enrollment of 2,043 and Blaine has 2,555 students.
Historically the Anoka Tornadoes are truly old school, with a tradition that dates to 1880. The Blaine Bengals’ history goes back to 1972 … which to current students probably seems like the dark ages.
Needless to say, teams from these two institutions are great rivals and athletes from one school know athletes from the other. Often they were teammates in youth sports.
That was the set-up Thursday evening for a Northwest Suburban Conference boys soccer game at Anoka’s Goodrich Field. The stadium, built in the 1930s as a Works Progress Administration project, oozes history from its lush natural grass playing surface to stone walls on the perimeter and off into the old neighborhood outside the fences.
In 2014, Anoka graduate Garrison Keillor wrote a letter to the editor of the Anoka County Union, describing a football game at Goodrich. He wrote: “Last Friday, I drove up to Anoka for the Anoka-Coon Rapids football game and sat in the bleachers about 10 feet below the pressbox where, as a 14-year-old kid, I sat and wrote up the games for the Anoka Herald.
“Goodrich Field looks so much the same as it did back then and off to my right was a student cheering section, about 300 strong, distinguished by wearing odds and ends of white, white shirts, headbands, caps, one boy in a white off-the-shoulder toga, tossing white streamers, setting off white smoke bombs – a solid block of high spirited goofiness and tumult and swaying and dancing in the stands – in their whiteness, the opposite of goth, more like moths fluttering at a porch light, and so utterly different from the self-conscious solemnity of the Fifties teenager.”
There was no large student section on hand for Thursday’s 5 p.m. boys soccer game. The spirit displayed on the field, however, was clear. These teams gave each other everything they had. Which was no surprise; Anoka is the two-time state champion of Class 2A boys soccer, and Blaine has been one of the teams standing in the Tornadoes’ way en route to the state tournament. A year ago, Anoka edged the Bengals 3-2 in section play.
“It’s always a personal game, playing Anoka,” said Blaine junior goalkeeper Jonathan Coello. “Our team’s always fired up playing these guys.”
The score Thursday matched the 2015 section game, but with the roles reversed. A goal by Giovanni Podesta with a little more than six minutes to play was the decider as the Bengals won 3-2. Anoka’s goals were scored by Blake Perry and Thomas Ryan; Brett Huver and Brandon Olson got the first two for Blaine.
Ryan gave the Tornadoes a 2-1 lead early in the second half. A penalty-kick goal by Olson made it 2-2 with 16:05 to play, followed by Podesta’s heroics. The Bengals celebrated at the final horn, and rightfully so.
“These are the games you get against them,” said Anoka coach Pete Hayes. “Two rivals that are very physical. They came out on the winning end today.”
Anoka’s record is 3-2; the Tornadoes lost to Minneapolis Washburn 4-0 in their season opener. That game was a rematch of last year’s state semifinals, which Anoka won 2-1. Blaine is 5-1, losing to Andover 3-1.
“These are two evenly matched teams but I’ll tell you, they have some weapons,” Blaine coach Berry Arrowsmith said. “They’re a good team.”
After Podesta’s go-ahead goal, the weight of the world fell on Coello to keep Anoka out of the net.
“Honestly, I’ve just got to trust my defense,” he said after making 10 saves. “They did great tonight. They cleared the ball well. I trust them. And everything that comes near me, I try to own the six-yard box and keep it out of there.
“It’s always personal (playing Anoka), especially when they kicked us out last year,” he said. “We know guys on this team; it’s always fun to play them but it’s always physical, too.”
If there is a rematch in 2016, it will come in the Section 7 playoffs. And this much we know: Both teams will be ready.
“It’s early,” Hayes said. “Like I told Berry, ‘You can have this one. We want the next one.’ That’s the one that counts.”--To see a photo gallery from the game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 30
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 1,418