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'We knew this was the team to rewrite JM history': Rockets boys soccer reaching new heights

The John Marshall boys soccer team has already clinched its first winning season since 2014, but this season has always been about something more.

Century, John Marshall boys soccer
John Marshall’s Ian Carter (15) stops the ball defended Century’s Abdikarim Aabi during a boys soccer game on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, at Century High School in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — There was plenty for the John Marshall boys soccer team to be excited about entering this season.

The Rockets had made great strides in the second year of the Abdul Noor era, matching their win total from the previous three seasons combined, with five.

On the boys side, Mayo, PIZM and Winona Cotter all eye conference titles in southeastern Minnesota, while on the girls side, it will be a toss-up.

With 12 seniors returning, this was the year JM knew it could do something special. Those seniors knew it, too.

"Before the season began, we had a feeling that this team is going to be the team to rewrite JM's history," forward Mechwa Meermarew said. "This is going to be the team that takes us to state."

This season has long been in the making for Noor and the Rockets.

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Five years ago, Noor was manning the sidelines for the junior varsity program, where he was a key part in the development of this core group of players: Ralph Nah, Jon Trajan McBroom, Nathan Kopecky, Camden Williams and Meermarew among others.

That core sure took its lumps, being forced into varsity action as wide-eyed underclassmen. But Noor knew it would be worth it down the road.

"These guys have been through a lot of challenges, obstacles," Noor said. "We promised to give these guys a good send-off, because these are my most important guys. We have to enjoy what we have."

So far it seems JM has been enjoying every moment.

With a 9-2-2 record, the Rockets have already clinched their first winning season since 2014 — a year that saw JM reach its second state tournament and first in 48 years. Three more wins and the Rockets will match their win total from the past five seasons.

Another similarity this year's team has with that 2014 squad is a sweep of city rivals Mayo and Century.

The Rockets handed Mayo its only defeat of the season with a 2-1 victory and last Thursday completed the intra-city sweep with a 2-1 win over the Panthers.

"They have done a really nice job," Century coach Hal Houghton said after Thursday's game. "They've come in really confident this year. They won that game against Farmington, which I think surprised everybody. Then shocked everybody beating Mayo.

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"... But Abdul, he's had that group for a number of years now. His approach to things. His calm demeanor about things. That's starting to come through to his team."

Ralph Nah came up with his own way to send a message to the John Marshall faithful on Thursday night. He sparked the Rockets to something the program hadn't done in a long time.

Against the Panthers, JM was led by its three standouts: Nah, McBroom and Meermarew.

Nah, who looks more like a linebacker in shin guards, got the scoring started in the first half, bullying his way to collect a bouncing ball in the box.

He provides a great duo up top with Meermarew, who is the catalyst, using his lightning speed to lead the Rockets in both goals and assists.

He started to flash his legs in the second half, peppering Century keeper Jack Bauman and putting pressure on the Panthers defense. It led to an opportunity for McBroom, who was all alone a top of the box, before flicking a shot right over Bauman for what was the game-winning goal.

For the Rockets, plays like that were the result of years of playing together.

"It comes down to communication," Meermarew said. "It takes the relationship that you have with your teammates.

"We had our years growing up," Nah added. "We've been in the program for a long time and we've known each other for a very long time. So we have great chemistry together, we know each other, we can calm each other down, we pick each other up every single time we're down."

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The Rockets are now hoping this family-like group leads to a deep run in a wide-open Section 1AAA where the Rockets are 3-1 on the season.

"We have a great coaching staff," Nah said. "We work hard every day in practice. ... we will keep moving on and get ready for sections."

Alex VandenHouten has been a sports reporter at the Post Bulletin since Sept. 2021. He loves to go hiking, biking, snowshoeing and just simply being outdoors with his wife Olivia. Readers can reach Alex at avandenhouten@postbulletin.com.
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