DES MOINES — At the beginning of the season, senior Jack Olson was about the only guy Iowa City West Coach Brad Stiles could think of who would be starting in the back line.
Obviously, he found three other guys, but it was Olson who was the surprising offensive star for the Trojans in a 1-0 victory Tuesday over No. 1 Johnston in the 3A state championship game.
The title is West’s eighth, extending its state record, and the seventh for Stiles, also a record. The Trojans extended their state record for most victories in the state tournament to 37. They hold the record for most championship game appearances with 11. It is the fifth title in six years and the third in a row, something no large school had ever done.
This was a different kind of season, even for a successful program like West. Gone were dynamic scorers like Paris Martins and Mueng Sunday along with a lot of other starters. While the Trojans (21-1) were ranked No. 1 in the preseason, they played a handful of games when only furious second-half rallies headed off losses. The defense was entirely rebuilt.
“When you lose as many minutes played and the Gatorade Player of the Year and a three-year keeper, everything has to start from scratch,” Stiles said. “We just found a little bit of a home for each player and a role to play.”
“We have great team chemistry and it grew even more over the season,” West goalie Zach Serovy said. “We don’t just work for ourselves; we work for each other.”
But this was a tall task. Johnston was unbeaten and West was in reality an underdog. After a 0-0 half, Stiles urged the team to think in terms of a certain kind of shot.
“Brad told us that last year Paris scored when he turned and hit it right away,” midfielder Ben Troester said. “He said that’s the way you’re going to score it. Jack pretty much followed what Stiles said.
“They are very athletic. They’re very good at blocking shots. So a shot like that was the only way we were going to get a clean shot on goal.”
Olson’s winner came in the 57th minute on a turn-and-shoot with his left foot. The ball rolled just inside the right post and the score seemed to stun spectators and players alike.
“Brad said ‘just turn and shoot the ball,’” Olson said. “’You don’t have to know where it’s going; you just have to make sure it’s on frame.’ That’s what I did, and it went in. It was a little unexpected. I didn’t expect to get a goal in this game, but anything can happen I guess.”
“It wasn’t that powerful, but when you have something low and near post it’s hard for the keeper,” Stiles said.
Olson, ordinarily a top defender who had scored just once all year, was up top for what he said was about 10 minutes in the second half.
“Once we got back healthy we were able to give him a run up front,” Stiles said, noting the return of Ryan Collins from surgery on his appendix and the ironman role of Anthony Pottratz.
Johnston put tremendous pressure on Serovy in the second half. Elbir Ibisevic, who led the Dragons in goals scored, hit the post on a bending free kick in the 45th minute, and two minutes later his header went barely wide.
“I definitely felt I was under fire there for a little bit,” Serovy said.
Olson scored, but Ibisevic was just wide on another header off a cross four minutes later.
“We knew it was going to be a close game,” Troester said. “We knew they were very good in the air and would try a lot of headers in the box.”
“We didn’t hold them out; they were just unlucky in the air,” Stiles said. “The yellow card helped us out too. That was one of their best players.”
Ibisevic was given a card with 9:03 to play for running into Serovy. That took him out of the game for the rest of regulation.
“We got lucky a couple times, but our guys just worked hard,” Serovy said of the defense. “They put everything they had into the game. It’s just a great feeling.”