Winning traditions are something that take time to build and develop and over the last eight seasons under the direction of now Stillwater head coach Jake Smothers, Spring Lake Park/St. Anthony Village boys’ soccer developed quite a reputation for winning and being a very tough opponent to eliminate from section play.
With a new coaching staff this fall, the Panthers look to continue that success and were 4-3-2 through Sept. 17.
The new staff includes some familiar faces in the greater Minnesota soccer community led by head coach Ryan Manning and assistant coaches Jen (McElmury) Manning and Matt St. Martin.
Manning is a 1994 graduate of Blaine High School and his mother, Eileen Manning, taught in Spring Lake Park School District 16 for more than 30 years, specifically at Park Terrace Elementary, before retiring in 2008. His father, Ron Manning, has been very active in local government serving on the Anoka-Hennepin School Board and currently on the Coon Rapids City Council.
His parents enjoy coming to the stadium to watch their son coach, Manning said.
Assisting Manning is his wife Jen (McElmury) Manning, who was a two-time Big Ten Player of the Year (1996-97) and three-time All-American at the University of Minnesota. Her No. 27 jersey was retired in 2004 and she ranks second all-time in career points (124), goals (49) and assists (26). She was also inducted into the university’s Hall of Fame.
Manning spent the last three seasons with the White Bear Lake boys’ program as an assistant coach, while Jen continues to teach at Stillwater High School, where they both coached previously. Jen served as the girls’ soccer head coach at Stillwater until a stroke in June 2008 forced her to step aside to focus on recovering.
St. Martin said most of the players wouldn’t have known what Jen went through if Manning hadn’t addressed it during practice.
“I know she was a little apprehensive at first but we’re having a blast,” Manning said of her returning to coaching.
St. Martin, Spring Lake Park’s activities director, has a soccer background that includes playing Division 1 soccer at Denver University for four years and professionally for 3.5 seasons for the Colorado Foxes in the 1990s.
The chance to be on the practice field and interact with students at a different level is one of the highlights for St. Martin. “I impact kids in a different way, not only on the field but kids come into the office and want to talk,” he said. “They see a different side of me which is good.”
According to St. Martin, he wanted to be part of the culture change inside the program that refocused on academics ahead of wins and losses. “I wanted to be part of that changing culture, but at the end of the day Ryan makes those decisions and early on he’s sought [Jen and I] out for help,” St. Martin said.
The key to make it all work came down to practice times. Instead of the usual after school training sessions, the Mannings run practices from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on non-game nights so that Jen can make the commute from Stillwater High School.
“The more and more we talked about it, the more we felt comfortable with it,” said Ryan, who also coaches the goalkeepers at Anoka-Ramsey Community College in Coon Rapids. “We didn’t want to go there for a short-term fix and we said if we were going to jump back into this it would be together.”
Jim Kirberger is the lone returning coach and works with the C-squad. Andy Lorei and Peter McKeown are coaches with the younger teams and both have experience with Minnesota’s pro-level team.
This was supposed to be a rebuilding season for the team after graduating 10 seniors and losing a heartbreaking 1-0 score in a shoot out to Champlin Park in the Section 5AA semifinal ending with a 13-5-0 record in 2012.
“A lot of people told us this team was supposed to be in the tank but we have a lot of talented young players coming in,” Manning said.
The staff has been pleased with the attitude and effort by the squad. “This really is one of the neatest groups of boys, personality-wise and how they treat each other,” Manning said. “It’s the nicest group to be around… I was talking to Matt about how incredible it is at how they soak up the information.”
Panthers seniors Eric Lundgren and Tyler Green lead the team with 12 points each. Green has a team high five goals, while Lundgren leads the way with four assists after scoring six times last season. Senior DJ Fluey has nine points (three goals) and senior Rigoberto Garcia has five points so far this season.
Spring Lake Park opened the season with a pair of tough games at the Phil Johnson Cup (formerly Minnesota Cup at Stillwater High School). Wayzata handed the Panthers a 5-0 loss in the opener, but they rebounded with a 3-1 win over St. Paul Central.
Consecutive 1-1 ties against Elk River and Cooper in early September was followed by the team’s first shutout of the season, 12-0 win at Big Lake.
Manning wasn’t impressed by the double-digit score, but that nine different players scored, he said. “It shows that we have a lot of different players who can tally goals,” Manning said. “That’s something we didn’t have before.”
The Panthers added a 3-0 shutout at Simley before losses to Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Mounds View.
According to Manning, the program has a bright future because of the way the team rebounded after the two losses to beat Fridley 2-1 Sept. 17. “We have at least two freshmen and three sophomores starting for us and at times up to eight,” Manning said.
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