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Raptors receive talent infusion

Katelyn Brown will be joined by teammates who played with the Minnesota Thunder Academy last season. (Bulletin file photo)

Some of the top East Ridge girls soccer players sat out the high school season last year.

They were busy competing on the national level with the Minnesota Thunder Academy, a club that Raptors head coach Mark Abboud started in 2008.

But they’ll be back with East Ridge this season, and Abboud says the Raptors high school program is the strongest it’s been in the school’s six-year history.

“We had 40 kids with final cuts with varsity. There was a big talent pool there. We decided on 18. It was the most difficult decision our coaching staff has ever made,” he said. “Good problems to have from a soccer coach’s perspective.”

Five of those players played for Thunder last season, which competes in the Elite Club National League -- a national developmental circuit for girls soccer players

A controversial ruling barred players from participating in both the ECNL and the Minnesota State High School League in 2013. But a new rule has changed that.

“This year, the kids are able to come back and play high school,” Abboud said. “With five players out of that program, we expect them to be integral.”

Add those players to several returners on a team that went 10-5-1 a year ago, and the Raptors figure to be competitive in a tough Suburban East Conference.

Abboud scheduled a tough nonconference schedule – East Ridge will play Rosemount and Edina among others – in an effort to prep his team for conference play.

“I wanted to make it as difficult as possible,” he said. “We’re going to try and test the girls early. It’s going to be challenging.”

Abboud expects his team to play a technical and athletic brand of soccer, and said the Thunder players’ national experience should help the team in pressure situations.

“A lot of our players from last year are a year older and a year more mature,” Abboud said. “I think we’re all excited.”