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Boys Soccer: Xavier Shoots Its Way Into State Tournament

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - It was pouring at Cedar Rapids Xavier's Heco Field on Saturday. Sure, the rain was falling hard and fast, but so were the goals from Saints attackers looking to shoot their team to the boys' state soccer tournament.

And advance they did, shooting their way past Clear Creek-Amana (14-5 overall) 5-0 in the Class 2A substate final.

"We knew they would come out ready to play, and we just wanted to stay focused," said Xavier head coach Amir Hadzic. "We knew we were a deeper team, we have more skilled players and eventually on a field like this, we wear them down.

"I think it was obvious in the second half they couldn't keep up with us."

The playing conditions were cold and wet with steady rain all game, which Hadzic said led to strategy changes before the game. Even with the adjustments, the Saints were able to run to their 11th shutout and third-largest margin of victory on the season.

"Our goal every game is to come out and get the early goal," said Xavier senior midfielder Eli Smith. "It kind of boosts our confidence, as well as doing some damage to their style of play as well. It gets us going in our groove."

Smith was certainly in a groove Saturday, leading a balanced scoring attack by Xavier (11-5) with a goal and two assists. Also scoring for Xavier were senior Isaac Frisch, sophomore Connor Ramlo, senior Colin Gunn, and a long, bending corner goal from sophomore Luke Koechner.

The scoring was early the first goal went in at the three-minute mark and often, something Hadzic stressed to his team before the game.

"I told (our) guys the key for substate games is to score early and kind of continue because not only do you score, but then the other team needs to change the way they play," Hadzic said. "Our ability to pass the ball really nice on the ground allowed us to actually wear them down because they were chasing everything."

The conditions also helped create a more physical game for the players. Luckily for the Saints, their conference has prepared them for that type of game.

"I think it was very physical both ways," Hadzic said. "Us playing in the Mississippi Valley Conference helps because we get used to this kind of pace and speed. We do it every game.

"For (Clear Creek-Amana), their schedule was probably a little bit easier in terms of playing smaller schools, and at a slower pace. So they kind of, in the second half, couldn't keep up with the same physical intensity as we did."

Hadzic and his players echoed what they said after their win against Mount Vernon on Wednesday, that this win is just one more step towards a larger goal.

But even with this state tournament berth, Hadzic already sees a hurdle standing in their way: a potential first-round matchup with conference rival Dubuque-Wahlert, who beat Xavier 2-1 earlier in the season.

"We don't want to just go to the state tournament. Our ultimate goal is to go all the way, but I know each step will be tougher," Hadzic said. "If we play Wahlert, it will be another Mississippi Valley Conference battle. It seems every year we end the season's end somehow needs to include Wahlert, so we'll be ready for it."

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