Cedar Rapids Weather
Girls Soccer: Saunders' Goal Lifts West To State Berth
By Sam Louwagie (Story) and Scott Saville (Video), Reporters
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Sometimes all it takes is one.
For more than 70 minutes under the Kingston Stadium lights on Monday night, the No. 8 Iowa City West girls’ soccer team hung on for dear life as No. 10 Cedar Rapids Kennedy pelted them with shots on goal.
And then quick-footed freshman Tia Saunders slipped behind the Cougar defense for a breakaway and scored, giving West a 1-0 victory and a berth in the state tournament.
“They’re a tough team to beat,” Women of Troy coach David Rosenthal said. “They just kept attacking and attacking. But we were able to get one.”
In the final 30 seconds of the first half, Kennedy junior Kaela Dickerman pushed the ball up the field and made a crossing pass to Carly Langhurst. The freshman managed to shove past West goalie Jayne Heinrich. But her shot went over the goal as the buzzer sounded.
Kennedy didn’t slow up in the second half. Dickerman had another near-assist on a crossing pass, and then she hit the crossbar on a shot from almost 40 yards out.
Later on in the game, Heinrich left the goalie box to try to boot the ball downfield. But a Kennedy attacker got a hold of it, and fired a shot at an empty net. What looked like a sure goal was knocked away by West freshman defender Payton Pottratz.
Pottratz described her role as the team’s “last line of defense.” She said she didn’t even know there was an open net behind her on the play.
“It’s really nerve-wracking,” she said. “But I’m not thinking in my head that I’m the last line. I just put full effort into every play. After I saved the shot, I turned around and saw that it was pretty empty back there.”
West used a similar formula to beat Kennedy in the regular season. Kennedy Coach Andrew McKnight guessed that in the two games combined, the Cougars had more than 40 chances while the Women of Troy had closer to 10. But he gave credit to a disciplined West defensive strategy.
“We did everything right except put the ball in the net,” he said. “To say it’s frustrating is an understatement. But creating chances doesn’t win games, scoring does.”
“We know them well,” Rosenthal said. “We know what they like to do, they know what we like to do. It becomes a chess match, and that’s fun.”
West put the game on checkmate when Saunders took off down the field, timing the run perfectly with a downfield pass. She put one move past the Kennedy goalie and had a wide-open net for a goal.
“You hold your breath,” Rosenthal said. “You think, ‘Does she have just enough in the tank to get a toe on the ball?’ But her breakaway speed makes a difference.”
“My coaches have been telling me I needed to start making that run earlier,” she said. “I got in the open, and it was a pretty challenging angle, so I just thought, ‘I really hope this goes in.’”
Saunders said playing in such a defensive struggle makes every opportunity to score more important — and more nerve-wracking.
“It’s tough. You just have to do the right thing with the ball when you get it,” she said. “I was nervous all game, but I’m just glad I could do it.”
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