Shutout of St. Francis gives Hawks a boost
They have a new coach, and an entirely new attitude.
Last week, the Cooper boys soccer team also got a victory to boot.
The Hawks beat St. Francis 3-0 Sept. 4, momentarily pausing what had been a 0-3-1 start to a season that included a pair of lop-sided defeats to Hopkins and then Totino-Grace.
Senior Mathieu Agnotodji, ninth-grader David Kromah and senior Simeon Ogunyemi scored the Hawks goal in the victory, as Cooper was finally rewarded for what first-year head coach Cameron Opel described as a tough-luck start to the year.
“We played a couple games where the scores didn’t look competitive, but we had played with those teams,” Opel said. “So it was nice to get a win. The mood and atmosphere of the team was better because of it.”
The rewards weren’t as fulfilling the next time out. Cooper lost 2-1 at Fridley Sept. 6 after a goal the Hawks had scored was called back before Fridley won it on a penalty kick that was called after an inadvertent handball in the box.
Opel noted the rules read differently on the play, saying that if the ball hits a hand, it has to be intentional for a penalty kick to be rewarded.
And it is tough to question his knowledge of the rulebook.
Opel played high school soccer for Chuck Scanlon in Apple Valley, helping lead the Eagles to back-to-back state championships in 1997 and 98.
His coaching start also came under Scanlon, who has won more boys soccer games than any coach in state history.
“I played for Chuck, and then I got a chance to coach with him,” Opel said. “His record kind of speaks for itself. He is the best.”
Opel’s arrival at Cooper eventually coincided with an opening on the boys soccer team’s coaching staff. He took it, and immediately sent his assistants into the school hallways, imploring kids to play.
The result was a tryout process that included 50 players.
“We have done a lot of recruiting; just trying to get kids to come out,” Opel said. “There were a lot of kids at Cooper that just weren’t playing soccer, so we got a lot of kids out that are new. Most of them can play, so now it is just a matter of getting this team to click.”
The schedule should offer that opportunity in the coming weeks.
Cooper opened its season by playing Heritage Christian Academy to a 1-1 draw Aug. 23. The Hawks lost to Park of Cottage Grove 1-0 the following day, before Hopkins (5-0) and Totino-Grace (7-0) handed the team a pair of defeats that did little for moral.
But then came St. Francis, and Fridley and games with North Branch (Sept. 11), Irondale (Sept. 13), Roseville (Sept. 15) and Princeton (Sept. 18) set up an opportunity to build on what Cooper accomplished last week.
“We have a chance to get some better results in these next few games,” Opel said. “That is something we have to be able to take advantage of.”
The players are in place to do so. Simeon’s goal against St. Francis was his second of the year. Midfielder Pilgrim Brooks netted the Hawks goal against Fridley on a free kick from 30 yards out, and his section of the field has been solid with the play of Victor Vera and Konah Swaray.
Sophomore sweeper Matt Laumann has been strong as well early on, Opel said. And goaltender Chris Vargas, who didn’t play in the loss to Totino-Grace, has yielded two goals or less in three of his four games.
“The team has recognized him as a leader in goal, and you have to have that or you are in trouble,” Opel said. “We have some pieces. Like I said, it is just about getting them to click.”