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Prep soccer: Duluth's Friday clan is TGIF times three

Connor Friday (from left) of Duluth Marshall, his cousin Nolan Friday of Duluth East and sister Maren Friday of Marshall lead their teams into this week's high school section playoffs. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com1 / 2
Duluth East’s Nolan Friday prepares to kick the ball past Cloquet-Esko-Carlton’s Jedd Anich during a recent game at Ordean Stadium. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 2

No harsh fouls or yellow cards resulted when Duluth East’s Nolan Friday and Duluth Marshall’s Connor Friday matched up on the field two weeks ago.

The cousins have too much respect for each other and for the game of soccer to be that chippy.

“There’s always an extra rivalry being that we’re family members, but then there’s also that respect that comes along with it,” said Nolan, a senior. “We’ll never do something cheap to each other. If we knock each other down, we’re going to pick each other up even though we’re on opposing teams.”

Connor, a 6-foot-3 senior defender, agrees with that sentiment.

“The rivalry is definitely there, but it’s always been a friendly rivalry,” he said.

Nolan earned lasting bragging rights with the Greyhounds’ 2-0 victory, but now the Fridays have a more important goal on the horizon: vying for a trip to the state tournament.

Top-seeded East (16-1) began its run Tuesday night with a 10-0 blasting of Cambridge-Isanti in a Section 7AA quarterfinal and hosts Coon Rapids in a semifinal tonight.

The Hilltoppers (8-7-1), seeded fourth in Section 7A, host Proctor in an opening-round game at 2 p.m.

That’s not the only family entertainment for the Friday family as freshman Maren Friday, Conor’s sister, and her fifth-seeded Marshall girls team face North Lakes Academy at home at 4:30 p.m.

Busy soccer days are nothing new for the Fridays. Nolan’s older sister, Morgan, played at the University of Toledo, younger sister Bailey is a goaltender at Shattuck St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minn., and two other younger sisters play in Duluth recreational leagues. Connor and Maren’s younger brother, Brendan, is a seventh-grader on Marshall’s junior varsity.

“Soccer has been a huge part of my family’s life,” Nolan said. “Growing up, I would compete against Morgan outside our house. Every night we’d set up the goals and play 1-on-1, and it was always a heated competition. That had something to do with how we did in our soccer careers, pushing the other to get better.”

Nolan, an attacking center midfielder with nine goals and 12 assists, was on the varsity the last time East reached the state tournament in 2014. The next year, when Nolan was a sophomore, the Greyhounds lost to eventual state champion Anoka in a shootout in the 7AA final.

The second-year co-captain has high hopes this time around.

“As a senior, it’s something we’re really pushing for to go out with a bang,” he said. “It would be awesome.”

East coach Nick Bremer is well-acquainted with the talents of his 6-foot, second-team All-State selection, having coached him since he was 11 years old.

“I’ve seen Nolan and this group of seniors come up for a long time,” Bremer said. “This year we asked him to be more of a distributor. We had a good team around here with other players who could put the ball in the back of the net, so I asked him to show that he could get his teammates involved and make other players around him better.

“He responded by doubling his career best in assists. Changing his role a little bit and creating for others makes our team better overall.”

Connor’s role hasn’t changed much, but it took a while for the two-year co-captain to grow out his gangly frame.

“He’s always been a bigger boy, but it’s taken him a few years to grow into his body,” Marshall coach Mike Sengbush said. “As a 10th-grader, he had a propensity to make a challenge and fall to his knees. Then he’d get up and fall again. He was really quite awkward. He’s grown with his body now and has been a solid defender for us.”

Like his cousin, Connor says soccer has been a vital cog in his life.

“I grew up playing on Nolan’s team (in youth leagues) and later playing against him, and playing together as a family in the backyard,” Connor said. “It’s been about learning to identify your own skill set and using that to your advantage and minimizing your weaknesses, and it’s also been about family and fun and bonding together.”

Now it’s about helping guide the youthful Hilltoppers to their first state tournament since 2012 when Connor was a seventh-grader.

“My first year playing soccer at Marshall was in seventh grade and the varsity went to state, so I think it would be fitting to finish out on that note,” he said.

While not favored, Maren Friday’s team could make waves in the 7A girls field. The Hilltoppers (10-6) have won seven of their last eight games.

A three-year varsity player, Maren’s season has been curtailed by a pesky knee injury suffered toward the end of the summer-league season. The outside midfielder partially detached the medial collateral ligament in her right knee and then strained her left quadriceps in pushing too hard to return. She ended up missing several games, but is close to 100 percent now.

“I’m pretty sure I’m fine now and ready to go into playoffs and, hopefully, help my team,” she said. “I’m hoping (the injuries) won’t be a problem.”

Now all three have a chance to make some unique family memories.

“Between Connor, Maren and Nolan, it’s a talented family,” Sengbush said.

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