Central Iowa boys’ soccer is in a chokehold.
Corridor powers are squeezing the suspense out of the state tournament by building dynasties at the same time and turning club success into spring titles.
No squad knows that better than Norwalk, the only team to break free last season.
The Warriors will attempt to repeat the rare feat in Class 2-A as the season begins Thursday across the state.
“A lot of other area teams have been close, but in a final situation it can be about getting one break to go your way,” Norwalk coach Dustin Kralik said. “The guys want to get back and do it again to show that they deserve it.”
Norwalk returns 17 of its top 22 players from last spring and booked a heavy 3-A schedule to prepare for eastern Iowa’s finest in June.
Before the Warriors snapped a string of runner-up finishes by topping Perry at Des Moines’ Cownie Soccer Park, three of the four previous 2-A crowns went to Cedar Rapids Xavier.
Iowa City West (3-A) and Iowa City Regina (1-A) both have won five of the last six state championships in their respective classes.
It’s an impressive run that will require a group of tough teams to stop.
“We’d been close so many times and actually getting over the hump and knowing we can do it is a real confidence-builder,” Kralik said.
“Hopefully being able to apply that and win those close games against bigger schools can help us out when it matters.”
Iowa City High and Dubuque Wahlert have figured into the Mississippi Valley Conference hunt in recent seasons as well.
The top challengers were scattered across central Iowa’s clubs until practice began just two weeks ago.
Johnston finished as 3-A runner-up in 2012 and 2014 after 1-0 losses to Iowa City West. Ames and Waukee have developed history through tight defense.
Valley reloads with a slew of talented scorers and qualified for state last season to tie Iowa City West with 16 all-time tournament appearances.
“It was a positive season, but we expected more,” Valley coach Aziz Haffar said in his annual preseason statement.
“The conference and state championships will not come easily for any team this year, and we will use our nonconference schedule to prepare ourselves to make a push for the title.”
The 2015 state tournament is two months away, kicking off at Cownie on June 4.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Kason Crall, so., Norwalk
The reigning Class 2-A champions have last season’s only first-team all-state freshman running the midfield. Crall finished his rookie season with 15 assists and three goals, including a header that beat six-time champ Cedar Rapids Xavier in the state semifinals.
Mason Lorber, jr., Danville
The state’s top scorer is back after 40 goals and five assists as a sophomore. A prolific target for last year’s young squad, Lorber has another season to build rapport with talented distributors Kole Perkins and Josh Deggendorf, who combined for 36 assists.
Alex MacGregor, so., Johnston
MacGregor allowed just nine goals in 17 starts last season, justifying the faith the Class 3-A runners-up showed putting a freshman between the sticks. Johnston has to replace its experienced backline, putting more pressure on its athletic young keeper.
Nathan Seaberg, jr., Bettendorf
The state-seasoned Bulldogs’ skillful forward is the top returning scorer in Class 3-A. Seaberg had 25 goals and nine assists as a sophomore, netting in Bettendorf’s biggest games against Johnston, Iowa City West, Dowling Catholic and Ankeny.
Iowa City West has won three straight state titles and five of the last six. Coach Brad Stiles lost the majority of his roster to graduation, but always seems to reload. … After scoring a 4-A-best 80 goals, Sioux City West is still waiting to make its state impact. The Wolverines have made four straight tournament appearances without a win. … Johnston will have to replace top scorer Elvir Ibisevic after the junior left school in January to join the U.S. Under-17 National Team Residency Program. … Des Moines Hoover went 7-0 against CIML Metro opponents last season and outscored those rivals 19-2. … Linn-Mar won its first state game last summer and returns eight starters. … Mark Broderick scored 13 goals to lead Valley as a freshman last season.
Defending champion Norwalk lost six games last season, all to 3-A CIML opponents. … Cedar Rapids Xavier hasn’t missed a state tournament since 2008. … Can Perry recapture the magic? Finishing as runners-up in their state debut, the Bluejays lost three of their top four scorers and European standouts Jonas Possner and Gustav Winterberg. … Nine 2-A players scored at least 20 goals last season, and seven of them return. Solomon Constant and Braxton Williams return for Fairfield and Fort Madison after scoring 27 goals each as sophomores. … Mississippi Athletic Conference threat North Scott has moved down from 3-A. … After back-to-back third-place finishes, Waverly-Shell Rock has to replace scoring tandem Tanner Hanks and Isaiah Mundell. The graduated duo combined for 75 goals and 52 assists the last two seasons.
Iowa City Regina has won back-to-back titles and five of the last six crowns in 1-A. … Mid-Prairie scored a state-best 91 goals en route to a runner-up finish. … Before Gladbrook-Reinbeck’s substate loss to Clear Lake, sophomore goalkeeper Josh Cooley owned a .951 save percentage and allowed just six goals in 14 games. … Danville scored 76 goals last season, but was shut out in two of its last three matches. … All four state tournament berths for Dyersville Beckman have come since 2010, but the Blazers have to replace 30-goal scorer Kyle Grover. … Riverside of Oakland made its first two state appearances in the last two seasons, but graduated nine senior starters.
Class 3-A—Iowa City West
Class 1-A—Iowa City Regina
First practice—March 16
First competition—April 2
Postseason start—May 26
State tournament—June 4-6