by Brent Rogness
Photography by Jeremy Petrick Photography
According to statistics, Minnesota has the highest concentration of people of Norwegian descent than any other state in the U.S. Yet, when it comes to this year’s Minnesota high school soccer landscape, many teams are finding it difficult to compete with the talented ‘Swiss Boys.’
The self-given moniker of the Moorhead Spuds soccer team has more to do with team bus trips than family trees or ancestry.
“We all love the Swiss chocolate milk,” says senior and team captain Joey Grundstrom. “Sometimes we get on the bus to go to a game and then realize we have to quick run to the gas station if we forgot it.”
Senior comrade Noah Yak agrees, time spent together on bus rides simply goes better with milk, just watch your labels closely.
“The bus rides with the team get pretty crazy. (We enjoy) team bonding and getting close with each other,” says Yak. He jokingly adds, “Don’t bring any of that skim milk stuff. We might throw you out.”
While the Spuds are out of the gates fast again this year, reaching a seventh-consecutive 10-win season, their ultimate success on the pitch has more to do with experience than it does the pregame beverage.
Yak, Grundstrom, and fellow senior Tommy Swenson bring an invaluable combination of on-field seasoning and leadership. Each athlete has dressed varsity since ninth grade, something that virtually never happens en masse at Moorhead High.
“All three of them stood out to me their freshman year,” says Spuds head coach Lance Hansen. “I can count on one hand how many freshmen we’ve had through our program. In one year, to select three freshmen (for the varsity team) from that group was pretty incredible.”
While Yak, Grundstrom, and Swenson bring a wealth of experience to the pitch, the three are also very different from each other in their style of play.
A natural-born leader, Grundstrom made Hansen’s choice easy from the moment he first auditioned as a ninth-grader.
“Joey had an impressive tryout his freshman year. His character is pretty incredible,” says Hansen. “I said to Joey, ‘By the time you’re a junior, you’re going to be a captain.’ I don’t think I had ever said that to a player before. He leads in a way that people really respect him.”
As any quality leader does, Grundstrom takes satisfaction in contributing to success as a team.
“I like distributing the ball and I like watching my team score,” says Grundstrom.
Yak not only made the squad, but his proficiency in finding the net earned him a starting job toward the end of his ninth-grade campaign. He credits much of his success to having the right mindset as he approaches each scoring opportunity.
“Surprisingly, my head is really clear (as I’m heading toward the net), and all I see is just me, the goal, and the ball in the back of the net,” says Yak.
Hansen adds that Yak is “relentless” when attacking the goal.
“He’s so dominant out there,” says Hansen. “He gets a lot of velocity on his shots.”
In his fourth season, Yak has come to realize how much he’s grown as a person and a player in the program.
“It’s been a lot of fun to be part of the team since my freshman year, developing my skills and growing and developing as a team,” he mentions.
Swenson thrives on the defensive side of the field, keeping the game balanced as he offers strength and speed to the midfield.
“Tommy is a quieter player, but he’s very dominant defensively for us. He can hold down the middle and he just dominates space,” says Hansen. “His on-the-ball quickness is incredible. He can slow down counterattacks, which is so important in soccer.”
A Squad too Strong to Resist
Hansen has been at the helm of the Moorhead boys soccer program since 2006. He is also a sixth-grade teacher at Moorhead Park Christian, where his daughters are enrolled. He coaches them during the spring season as part of their co-op with the Shanley program.
As his daughters advance through the high-school ranks, Hansen’s narrowing his focus. He has decided this will be his final season with the Spuds’ boys team. He initially considered backing away last season, but coaching this talented class of seniors proved too hard to back away from.
“Stepping away with this group is exactly what I wanted to do,” Hansen says. “This is the perfect way to step out. The program will continue to do well.”
Grundstrom credits Hansen with much of the program’s success, and was pleased to see him make the choice to return.
“We were all hoping he’d come back because he brings our team together and it seems at the end of the year we peak at the right moments,” Grundstrom says. “He’s good at that at practice and he has a lot to do with our success on the field.”
Working Together to Fulfill the Dream
Grundstrom, a second-year captain, shares duties with senior Devon Thompson and junior Clay Riveland. He relishes taking on a leadership role in practices, games, and beyond.
“I’m incredibly honored to be nominated as a captain by my teammates. It’s been a great time leading them on and off the pitch,” Grundstrom says. “As we’ve grown up over the past year, it’s been fun to have a common goal to make the state tournament. Hopefully we can fulfill our dream this year.”
Fulfilling that dream will likely require finding a way through St. Cloud Tech, a team that has gotten the best of them in the Class AA, Section 8 semifinals each of the past two years. In the 2015 tournament, the teams played to a 0-0 tie, but Tech ended Moorhead’s season with a penalty shootout win.
“Last year was a heartbreak loss with the shootout,” says Grundstrom. “St. Cloud Tech is a very skilled team.”
Tech went on to finish third at the state tournament last fall. They once again field a team with a strong chance to compete for a section title, Grundstrom observes.
“Our biggest nemesis will be St. Cloud Tech,” he says. “They’re our rival in the section.”
Hard work and dedication have brought the Spuds a long way in recent seasons. Swenson is optimistic the year-round work they put in will ultimately help bring them over the top.
“There’s a lot of pride in being a Spud,” Swenson says. “Most of us worked hard in the offseason to reach our full potential. About 75 percent of the starters were on a club team.”
For the Spuds, the ingredients are there to create a deep playoff run this fall: High character, strong work ethic, a wealth of experience, a deep roster, and a coach aiming to end his career in style. Just don’t forget to add an ice-cold pint of Swiss chocolate milk.