MARION — The Linn-Mar girls soccer team held on for dear life on Tuesday night as Iowa City West fired shot after shot at the Lions’ all-state goalie and at their 1-0 lead.
But both held.
An unflappable performance in goal from junior Rylie Frese kept second-ranked Linn-Mar undefeated and gave No. 3 West its first loss, 2-0.
“Our goalie’s amazing,” senior defender Maddie Scheldrup said. “She’s saved us so many times. We know we can always trust her.”
Frese admitted it wasn’t as easy as she made it look.
“It’s really scary,” she said of clinging to a one-goal lead for nearly the entire second half. “Especially against West, because they’re so good.”
Scheldrup said the Lions deliberately slowed the game down and turned it into a defensive struggle once they gained the lead. That lead came 15 minutes into the first half when junior Kayla Kvach deflected a Jensen Sevening free kick for her fourth goal of the season.
After that, Linn-Mar dropped all their midfielders back on defense and tried to slow down West’s high-powered offense.
Freshman midfielder Regan Steigleder controlled the ball for much of the second half, weaving through the Lions’ defense. She fired a one-timer on net with less than five minutes to play in the first half, but Frese dove to knock it away. The Women of Troy barely missed the net on a header off a corner-kick just before the halftime buzzer sounded.
In the second half, Steigleder and senior forward Anna Hausler continued to threaten nearly every time they had the ball. But there were enough Lion defenders swarming them, and Frese made enough impressive saves, to keep West off the scoreboard.
“It was a tough game,” Scheldrup said. “It was really compacted on our side for a lot of it, and they had a lot of chances to score.”
Linn-Mar had fewer chances, but made the most of them. With 1:40 left in the game, Lions forward Olivia Garcia leaked behind the Iowa City West defense and scored a breakaway goal -- her team-leading ninth of the season. Garcia had been hanging back to wait for a breakaway opportunity for much of the second half.
“That was such a relief,” Frese said. “I knew she was going to come through with one of those. That’s kind of our thing.”
Another one of the Lions’ ‘things’ appears to be grinding out close wins against top-five opponents.
Last month they knocked off No. 4 Kennedy, 3-2.
“When we play those good teams, it pushes us,” Scheldrup said. “We’re more composed when we play big games like this. Because it’s so tense.”
Frese said the marquee wins have Linn-Mar feeling more confident about their chances at the state tournament than they did a month ago.
“We know we can beat these great teams,” she said. “But at the same time, these games have been so close that we know we need to get better.”
Linn-Mar plays Cedar Rapids Xavier on Thursday night on KCRG 9.2.