Boys Soccer: West Breezes Into State Tournament

By Sam Louwagie (Story) and Josh Christensen (Video), Reporters

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By Grant Burkhardt

IOWA CITY, Iowa - The Iowa City West soccer team’s offense is so good that even a field full of puddles couldn’t slow it down.

Playing in rainfall so persistent that it forced many spectators at West High to watch from inside their cars, the defending state champion Trojans (17-1) sprinted past Pleasant Valley (11-8) and back into the state tournament with a 5-0 victory.

The field was swampy enough that the ball often stopped dead in a rain puddle, which made it hard to pass the ball on the ground. So West decided to simply kick it through the air instead. The Trojans booted the ball down the field over and over again and let their speedy attackers outrun the defense for breakaways.

That’s exactly how senior Justin Baker scored the first two goals of the game.

“We do play a lot of long balls in the air,” he said. “It’s wet out there, so we knew the ball was going to skip. We anticipated the ball getting through and the defense missing it. They did miss it, and I was able to get to it.”

Gatorade player of the year Mueng Sunday, a senior defensive midfielder, was often at the center of the attack. He scored the game’s third goal when he beat the defense and received a pass from midfield, and he nearly had an assist on multiple downfield passes where the ensuing shot went just wide of the goalpost.

“It takes a lot of timing, and it’s something we work on a lot with our forwards,” Sunday said. “They do a great job making runs. Not only does the person with the ball have to time it, but also the person making the run.”

Aaron Miller and Waadood Daoud also scored second-half goals for the Trojans.

Pleasant Valley coach Jeff Bernhardt said the sloppy field conditions made his team’s normal game plan impossible. But he said he was “very disappointed” they didn’t adapt.

“When I saw the field conditions, I knew we couldn’t play our possession style of game. I said, ‘Guys, we’re going to have to resort to long balls, like they do.’ And they didn’t listen.”

West High has won 17 straight games. The top-ranked Trojans scored 19 combined goals in the semifinals and finals of their substate bracket. The team is playing so well that all Bernhardt could do after the game was shake his head in appreciation.

“Their running off the ball is just so beautiful,” he said. “For a high school team, it’s one of the best I’ve seen. They spread you out on the field and look for those through-balls.

“They got us.”

While the Trojan players were launching perfect passes through the rain for much of the game, Baker said it is never ideal to play through puddles. But the fact that West High can do it as well as they did is quite a statement.

“When you’re running down the field and the ball just stops, that’s a challenge,” Baker said. “But we dealt with it and got it done.”

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