Eastern Iowa is getting used to playing big brother in Iowa boys’ high school soccer, dangling trophies just out of reach from oh-so-close central Iowa squads.
Last year’s championships were a clean sweep, with central Iowa contenders Johnston, Norwalk and Nevada being held scoreless in their respective class title games.
Today’s statewide start to the season is the first chance to reverse that trend.
“Every year we’re like to make the state tournament and win it,” West Des Moines Valley coach Aziz Haffar said. “A lot of our guys that have been there have a taste for it and would like to go back, and think we can challenge for a state title.”
Valley has four state championships on its resume, but has finished third, second, and third at state in the past three seasons. The Tigers are replacing two all-tournament team players and 2012 Gatorade Iowa player of the year in Eric Williams, but expectations are still high.
“We tried to create a very good schedule to know where we stand right away,” Haffar said. “I want my players to be tested.”
Since boys’ soccer went to three classes in 2009, eastern Iowa teams have won 10 out of the 12 possible championships — and Catholic schools account for eight of the 12. Dowling Catholic’s 2011 win was the lone central Iowa victory.
Johnston joined the group of potential usurpers last season with an attractive brand of soccer before losing to six-time champion Iowa City West in its first Class 3-A title game appearance.
“Something we have talked about already this season is that this is the beginning of a new era for the program,” Johnston coach Heath Weeks said. “The success of the last couple of seasons have been great, but we are a very different team now and will need to make a new name for ourselves and prove ourselves all over again.”
The Dragons graduated the majority of a possession-minded lineup, leaving Weeks to get gaps filled. Especially if Johnston and the rest of central Iowa is to catch up with big brother.
“We’ve had a couple strong years and good showings at state, but compared to the Bettendorfs, Valleys, and Iowa City Wests, we are still just newcomers,” Weeks said. “It’s great, though, having such strong programs like those to aim for and emulate.”
The nine-week season gets into gear this weekend with several major events across the state. The state tournament is set for May 30 through June 1 at Cownie Soccer Complex in Des Moines.
BOYS PRESEASON RANKINGS
Class 3-A–1. Iowa City West; 2. Johnston; 3. W.D.M. Valley; 4. Iowa City High; 5. Bettendorf; 6. Ames; 7. Ankeny; 8. Pleasant Valley; 9. W.D.M. Dowling; 10. Cedar Rapids Kennedy.
Class 2-A–1. Dubuque Wahlert; 2. Norwalk; 3. Cedar Rapids Xavier; 4. ADM (Adel); 5. Spirit Lake; 6. Pella; 7. Spencer; 8. Webster City; 9. Clear Creek-Amana; 10. Hudson.
Class 1-A–1. Waterloo Columbus; 2. Iowa City Regina; 3. Dyersville Beckman; 4. Nevada; 5. Council Bluffs St. Albert; 6. West Liberty; 7. Davenport Assumption; 8. Fort Madison Holy Trinity; 9. Iowa Mennonite (Kalona); 10. Center Point-Urbana.
Source: Iowa High School Soccer Coaches Association.