10 final thoughts from 2022 Iowa high school state soccer tournaments

Prairie’s Aiden Neumann makes a save during a 3A boys’ state soccer quarterfinal match at the James W. Cownie Soccer Park in Des Moines, Iowa on Wednesday, June 1, 2022. (Nick Rohlman / The Gazette)

DES MOINES – After covering the Iowa high school state soccer tournaments at Cownie Soccer Park, here are 10 final thoughts from the week.

1. The first year of concurrent girls ‘and boys’ tournaments was an excellent showcase for Iowa soccer. Back-to-back quarterfinal days with four games almost always being played on side-by-side fields provided a fun atmosphere. The following six championship games Saturday with staggered start times was a blast.

2. The atmosphere was not always a good thing. WHO-TV’s Mark Freund said “this year’s state soccer tournament was the worst display of fan behavior I’ve ever seen in my career.” My initial thought was that I hear worse annually at state basketball, but then I considered I might just be numb to the constant shouting at officials by now (and I typically wasn’t as close to the fans as Freund was to hear specifics). Even in a game I covered in which the result was decided, fans from the winning team relentlessly and loudly complained about every call or non-call. There are a lot of theories, from the heat to the lack of rules knowledge, but regardless, leaders might have to take action in the future. A 3A varsity regular-season game I covered had only two officials this spring and I’m afraid the situation will get worse if this behavior continues.

3. Amir Hadzic’s state tournament streak isn’t over. As Cedar Rapids Xavier coach, he brought the Saints to state 12 consecutive seasons from 2009-21 and won five state titles in 13 appearances overall. Hadzic stepped down in the offseason but was back at Cownie Soccer Park in 2022 with a referee’s uniform. Hadzic, the Mount Mercy men’s coach, remains an outstanding ambassador for the game in the community and in the state.

Assistant Referee and former Cedar Rapids Xavier coach Amir Hadzic signals possesion during a 1A boys’ state soccer semifinal at the James W. Cownie Soccer Park in Des Moines, Iowa on Friday, June 3, 2022. (Nick Rohlman / The Gazette)

4. Have you ever seen a state tournament in which all four lower-seeded teams won first-round games? That happened on the Class 3A boys’ side, though it might not have been as shocking as it seems. The 8-seed was misleading, Waukee Northwest having forfeited seven of its wins due to an ineligible player to drop to that spot and beat No. 1 Ankeny. No. 2-seed Johnston was without leading scorer Wilmont Manneh after a substate final red card and was upset by Cedar Rapids Prairie. Overall, I thought it was a pretty wide-open bracket at the start of the week anyway and that proved to be the case.

5. There were some significant differences between the coaches rankings that use Elo ratings and the IHSAA’s state tournament seeds based on a simpler points system. Of the 11 games that featured a different higher-ranked team than the higher-seeded team, the higher-ranked team won seven. What does that mean? The seeding method could probably use some tweaking, but every system is imperfect. We got a great tournament with some deserved championship matchups regardless.

6. Pleasant Valley has won the last two Class 3A boys’ state titles without allowing a single goal, despite not being the favorite (or probably even No. 2) entering either tournament. Eastern Iowa teams certainly haven’t overlooked the Spartans. Cedar Rapids Prairie Coach Curt Lewis knew what to expect in their semifinal game Friday. “You don’t want to give conferences styles, but the (Mississippi Athletic Conference) is a very physical style,” he said after PV’s 3-0 win over his Hawks. Lewis said he’s tried to schedule more MAC teams. He and Iowa City West Coach Brad Stiles marveled at PV’s ability to consistently win 50-50 balls throughout 80 minutes. Sometimes you don’t need to analyze the game much further than that.

7. The Class 2A boys’ tournament was full of drama. Three of the four quarterfinal games had golden goals in overtime periods, including No. 7-seed Newton stunning No. 2-seed Bondurant-Farrar. Gilbert, which beat Marion in the quarterfinals, then took top-seeded Pella to penalties in the semifinals. But Lewis Central, which did not lose to a 2A team this season, ended up standing out. The Titans beat Humboldt 2-0, took a 2-0 lead on Newton before hanging on to win, 2-1, then earned their second title in three seasons with a convincing, 3-1, win over Pella.

8. Des Moines Christian ending Davenport Assumption’s five-year reign as the Class 1A girls’ champion with Saturday’s 1-0 victory was a historic accomplishment. Elizabeth Maus had won her first 35 postseason games as head coach. Since soccer split into three classes in 2011, Assumption had won nine of the 10 1A titles. The Knights had not lost to a 1A team since falling in double-overtime to Waterloo Columbus in the 2015 state quarterfinals. Now, the question is, how long will the Lions’ reign last? Ten starters are set to return next season.

9. Maybe the performance of the tournament came from Ankeny Centennial girls’ goalkeeper Kate Bergan. She stopped all four West Des Moines Valley penalties in a semifinal shootout to send the Jaguars to the Class 3A final with a 2-1 (2-0 PK) win over the defending champion carrying a 37-game win streak. Centennial was accustomed to a win like that, having topped Johnston in a 3-1 regional final shootout. The Jags ended up beating Council Bluffs Lincoln, 2-0, to claim their third championship.

10. I enjoyed following the Kick It Forward crew’s work throughout the week. With a tent set up in the complex, Ben Brackett, Blake Siberz and company offered daily podcasts and videos breaking down the games in each class and shared some highlights on social media. They also brought in players and coaches for news conference-style interviews that added something special to the event. I particularly appreciated the tactical breakdowns from Matt Sahag, an element that is typically missing from traditional high school soccer media coverage.

Comments: nathan.ford@thegazette.com

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