Not many junior college women's soccer programs in Minnesota can say they've been to the national tournament. In fact, none of them can say they've accomplished what Anoka-Ramsey Community College has done.
The Golden Rams played in the NJCAA Division III National Tournament earlier this month for the third time since 2012. Anoka-Ramsey took sixth place after losing 6-0 to SUNY Broome Community College, defeating Rowan College at Gloucester County 2-0 and losing 3-1 in the fifth place game to Brookdale Community College.
SUNY Broome went on to win the national championship.
"It was great to get out there," Golden Rams head coach Brady Eichhorn-Hicks said. "They're all freshmen and sophomores, so none of them had been to nationals before. A couple of the coaches and myself have been there before, so it wasn't new for us. But it was great to get out there with the ladies. The facilities there were nice and the tournament was well-run. We were happy with the entire experience. Of course we would have liked to win it, but the team we lost to was the eventual national champions and they definitely deserved it."
The tournament took place in Toms River, N.J.
Anoka-Ramsey finished the season 13-3-1.
"It was an interesting season for us," Eichhorn-Hicks said. "We had a really small roster based on a couple of factors outside of our control. We didn't really have that high of expectations going into it. As the season went on, we realized with the players that we did have, we had something special. They just all kind of clicked. We saw about halfway through the season that we had a real shot to go to nationals and they managed to do it."
One of those players to lead the way was Spring Lake Park graduate Rochelle Perzel. The sophomore played at Crown College last season, but transferred to Anoka-Ramsey this year.
Perzel broke the school record for goals in a season with 26. Michaela Donat, a sophomore from Elk River High School, wasn't far behind with 25.
"Rochelle had a fantastic season," Eichhorn-Hicks said. "She was a great fit for us. She fit exactly into our style of play. She meshed with all the players very well. Of course it made it even better that she's a Spring Lake Park kid because we always like the local kids to do well."
Eichhorn-Hicks is also the head coach for the men's soccer team. The men went 14-3 and won the Region XIII championship, but lost 2-0 to Richland College in the District C Semifinal.
The women's and men's teams usually played back-to-back during the regular season, which made the juggling task manageable for the head coach.
"Occasionally it has its own unique challenges," Eichhorn-Hicks said. "But I have a great coaching staff. Anytime there are conflicts, my assistant coaches are up for taking one team while I take the other. Although it happens very rarely that I have to choose between the two."
The national tournament appearances has made choosing a bit easier for area high school players looking to play soccer at the next level. Anoka-Ramsey has qualified for nationals in 2012, 2013 and now 2016.
"It definitely helps in recruiting," Eichhorn-Hicks said. "We are the only Minnesota junior college to make the national tournament in the last six or seven years and we've made it three times. So it certainly helps. As of right now, there aren't many Minnesota junior colleges that can challenge us for junior college soccer supremacy. It certainly has helped getting to nationals because we tend to get quality recruits because of it. We're already recognizing that we're getting a lot of recognition from kids looking for homes for next year. I'm sure we will bring in another good recruiting class next year."