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Girls Soccer: Armstrong Scores 4 In Xavier's Substate Rout Of Independence

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa If Cedar Rapids Xavier loses one of its next four games, it will be the first girls' soccer team from the school in eight years to fall short of a state championship.

No pressure.

"Whether they feel it or not," coach Bailey Dorrington said, "the pressure is there."

If they do feel it, the Saints didn't let it show in the first postseason game of the season. Xavier routed Independence, 6-0, on its home field Tuesday night. The Saints controlled the ball almost the entire game, out-shooting the Mustangs 53-3, and putting 23 shots on goal to just one for Independence.

But throughout the first half, Xavier didn't exactly look like the biggest dynasty ever to rule an Iowa girls' sport. The Saints repeatedly chipped the ball over the net, hit all three goalposts, shot the ball wide, or kicked it where Mustang goalie Mackenzie Thompson could swat it away.

Star midfielder Kayla Armstrong sliced through the defense and scored with 24 minutes remaining in the first half, but Xavier missed on several chances from then on, leading just 1-0 at halftime.

"The muddy field and long grass aren't ideal conditions," Armstrong said. "But we knew what we had coming in. We just had to stay positive through that. Our coach talked to us at halftime about it."

Dorrington said it "wasn't the most pleasant halftime speech they've ever sat through."

"I was a little disappointed in the way we finished early on," she said. "It's a lack of focus when you're in close like we were. Getting shots and chances are great, but this isn't early in the season, where you'd say, 'Oh, good job, almost there.'"

Whatever Dorrington said at halftime worked. The Saints had no trouble hitting the back of the net in the second frame, scoring three times in a two-minute span shortly after the break. Senior defender Sammi Shepard scored twice in that burst, and Armstrong scored three more times in the second half.

Xavier moves on to the Regional Final against Waverly-Shell Rock on Monday. If Xavier wins there, it's off to state again. The Saints smile and high five on the field all game, not looking like a team with a historic streak hanging over its head.

Dorrington, who played on the first two title-winning teams during the streak, said the team felt more pressure last season, when they were shooting for a state-record seventh title.

"There's always that idea," Armstrong said. "But we try not to look at it that way. Each year is a new team, and we like to have the opportunity to bring championships back to Xavier."

If they do it again, Armstrong will be a big part of it. The senior was second in Class 2A this season with 31 goals, and she added four more on Tuesday. She also took 21 shots against Independence, putting 10 of them on goal.

"We'll miss Kayla next season," Dorrington said. "She did what she was supposed to do today, which is score. She knows the team will struggle if she doesn't, and she brings so much consistency. That's a lot of pressure."

Pressure, of course, hasn't stopped Armstrong or Xavier yet.

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