Waukee has taken annual steps to become a championship contender in girls’ soccer.
Four straight state tournament trips result from improving facilities, implementing a confident, possession-based style and keeping college-level talent together for Iowa’s short spring season.
But the next leap for the Warriors — and so many other teams across the state as the regular season begins Monday — involves getting over the title hump.
“We have a good history of making it to state, and that’s an expectation of ours. That doesn’t change, ” Waukee coach Tony Gabriel said. “But other programs are getting better, too. We’re all pushing for that same spot, so we’ve got to work even harder.”
Waukee’s eight state tournament berths have produced two runner-up trophies and three consecutive losses in the Class 3-A semifinals, including a 1-0 defeat to eventual champion Cedar Rapids Kennedy last year.
Gabriel returns versatile Northern Iowa recruit Hannah McDevitt and Iowa State commit Ellie Cavanaugh and is hoping an arduous regional schedule can help his team make the jump in June.
The 3-A field should be crowded again locally, with Dowling Catholic and Valley reloading and young squads such as Johnston, Southeast Polk and Ankeny Centennial working to make a similar step into the spotlight.
“We try to work well with the club coaches in the area and use our coaching and strategies in with them so they’re ready,” Gabriel said. “They’re working hard and feel ready, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
Nevada has been waiting on 1-A’s championship doorstep. The last three seasons have ended at state against Davenport Assumption, and the Cubs will be favored to return after most their starters helped win the Class 3-A basketball title this winter.
Ankeny is back to trying to get over the title hump in 2-A after winning 3-A as a single school in 2011 and 2013. Dallas Center-Grimes has to do the same after three straight state quarterfinal exits.
North Scott accomplished the feat by winning in 2-A for the first time last season.
Linn-Mar of Marion was on the verge of greatness in 3-A last season before a regional final loss to Kennedy. The Lions were 18-0 and tournament-ready. Now they have to build their success back up.
“As a coach, you tell your players to make 100 runs and one will pay off, and that’s exactly what burned us,” Linn-Mar coach Steve Dickinson said. “We were undefeated until then, which is basically unheard of at this level, but we fell short of our ultimate goal.”
The team’s preseason T-shirts proclaim “Unfinished Business,” and that means making a drive to Cownie Soccer Park when the state tournament begins June 11.
“We’ve got a good team, but we’ve got work to do,” Dickinson said.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Bailey Bravard, sr., Dowling Catholic
The Kansas signee’s career coincides with a strong run at Dowling Catholic, including six state tournament games, 41 goals and 21 assists in three years. Bravard’s speed is a constant threat on the counter and should open up offense for the young Maroons.
Alesha Duccini, jr., Dubuque Hempstead
The pass master behind last year’s Class 3-A runner-up finish had 16 goals and 23 assists as a sophomore. A combination of control and pace allows Duccini to get Hempstead back to Cownie from almost any position on the field.
Courtney Powell, so., Union (LaPorte City)
Powell was the state’s top goal-scorer as a freshman. With 45 tallies in open play, the playmaking forward helped Union go on a 14-match win streak last season and has already committed to Iowa State.
Abby Stephenson, so., Nevada
It’s fitting that the top scorer for an extremely young Class 1-A runner-up was a freshman. The 5-foot-7 forward had 22 goals and 13 assists last season, and will lead the charge for the Cubs from basketball season to the spring.
Cedar Rapids Kennedy has won two of the last three 3-A crowns … Linn-Mar beat seven other state tournament qualifiers in the last regular season and was undefeated until the regional final … Waukee seniors Hannah McDevitt and Ellie Cavanaugh have signed to play at the next level with McDevitt headed to Northern Iowa and Cavanaugh to Iowa State … All four losses for Johnston last season came by a 1-0 scoreline, and the Dragons return seven starters … Emma Cooper and Regen Steigleder scored 27 goals for state qualifier Iowa City West as freshmen … Valley allowed just four goals on a nine-match win streak before losing to rival Dowling Catholic at state … Ames returns Iowa State commit Katie Culhane in goal and top scorer Endylion Strohman.
North Scott used a semifinal shootout to unseat eight-time defending champion Cedar Rapids Xavier and eventually win the title last season … Beth Samek will be Xavier’s new coach after Bailey Winter resigned in the winter … Ankeny will remain in 2-A, while fellow state qualifier Ankeny Centennial is moving up to 3-A … After a 2-3 start last season, Dallas Center-Grimes won 12 of its next 14 matches and outscored opponents 47-6 … Waverly-Shell Rock graduated 2-A’s top scorer Morgan Neuendorf, but brings back playmaker and 20-goal scorer Haley Grawe … Grinnell returns Morgan Finch and Malia Durr after the duo combined for 47 goals and 30 assists last season.
Davenport Assumption ended last season with its fourth straight title … Sioux City Heelan posted eight consecutive clean sheets until falling to Assumption in the state semifinals … Union freshman Courtney Powell was closely followed in the scoring standings by Gladbrook-Reinbeck’sNicole Adair. The senior finished 2014 with 44 goals, five coming from the spot … Nevada beat six other state qualifiers in the regular season, four in larger classes … Iowa City Regina scored a state-best 104 goals and returns six starters from a semifinal squad.
Class 3-A—Cedar Rapids Kennedy
Class 2-A—North Scott
Class 1-A—Davenport Assumption
First practice—March 23
First competition—April 6
Postseason start—May 29
State tournament—June 11-13