Chemistry and mental toughness were the main ingredients to a memorable 2014 season by the Nevada girls’ soccer team.
Under the direction of Randy Davis, Nevada went undefeated in the regular season for the first time ever. The Cubs then qualified for state for the third straight year and made it all the way to the title game – another program first – before succumbing to four-time defending state champion Davenport Assumption.
"It might be just one of those years we’ll never see again," Davis said. "We’re going to hopefully win a state championship, but I don’t know if we’ll have this magical a season where you don’t lose a game until the championship game. That’s what makes this the hardest of anything is that the only time you lose is in the championship."
Nevada’s remarkable run started with a 2-0 road victory over archrival Gilbert on April 7. The next day the Cubs hosted Ames and pulled off a 3-2 triumph over their larger neighbors to the west.
From there Nevada reeled off four consecutive shutouts on the road. The Cubs whipped North Polk by a 6-0 score, Nodaway Valley/Adair-Casey/West Central Valley and Winterset by 4-0 margins and Prairie City-Monroe by a 10-0 decision.
On April 21, Nevada traveled to Ankeny to take on 2A power Ankeny Centennial. The Cubs knocked off the Jaguars by a 2-1 score for their first monumental victory of the season.
Nevada followed up its big triumph over Ankeny Centennial with two equally impressive outings at the Nevada Invitational April 26.
The Cubs crushed Ottumwa by a 10-0 score in the opening round, then pulled off an exciting – and exhausting – 1-0 victory over a Waverly-Shell Rock team that ended up runner-up in 2A. The Cubs won that game in a sudden-death shootout that took a whopping 16 shooters to decide the final outcome.
After that grueling battle Nevada still had to face top-five 1A power Columbus Catholic of Waterloo in the title game. The Cubs scored a 2-0 in the championship game to claim the tournament championship.
Nevada annihilated Collins-Maxwell-Baxter by a 10-0 score on May 5, then took on three consecutive ranked teams in Pella, Bondurant-Farrar and Ankeny.
The Cubs blanked Pella by a 2-0 score and Bondurant-Farrar by a 4-0 margin at home. They traveled to Ankeny May 22 and pulled off a 2-1 victory over the Hawks.
A rematch with Nodaway Valley/AC/WCV May 23 resulted in a 3-0 Cub victory. The Cubs traveled to Fort Dodge and knocked off the Dodgers by a 3-1 score on May 29; the next day they wrapped up the regular season with a 2-1 win over a Dallas Center-Grimes team ranked in the top five in 2A.
Nevada received a bye in the first round of 1A regional play. They blanked Aplington-Parkersburg/Grundy Center by a 4-0 score in the semifinals, then turned in their most dominant showing of the season with a 7-0 drubbing of Clear Lake in the finals.
The victory over Clear Lake put Nevada back in the state tournament. After falling in the semifinals each of the last two years, the Cubs had bigger goals the third time around.
In the opening round at state on June 12, Nevada took on Tri-Center at the Cownie Sports Complex in Des Moines. Nevada pulled off a 1-0 victory on a first-half goal from Abby Stephenson.
The semifinals pitted Nevada against Iowa City Regina and the Cubs earned a 1-0 victory over the Regals at state for the second year in a row. This time, the two teams went to overtime, with Stephenson again scoring the winning goal.
In the championship game, Nevada faced Davenport Assumption on Saturday. The three-time defending state champions had defeated the Cubs in the semifinals the previous two years and the Knights made it three on Saturday, handing Nevada a 3-0 loss to end its dream run.
Nevada ended up with a 21-1 record. The Cub defeated an impressive 10 schools that finished the regular season ranked.
"We’ve talked for years that chemistry was probably the most important thing – chemistry, the will to win and skill, Davis said. "They worked so hard and the chemistry was really good. The girls just played so well together. You always talk about being one big family and we are. It’s a big family to me anyway."
Part of the reason for that was the return of several starters off last year’s state semifinalist.
Nevada brought back forwards Jessica Helton, Elli Cassabaum, Kati Cassabaum and Mara Rhodes; midfielders Michaela Matuska and Abby Bremer, fullbacks Raegan Saunders and Lexi Kruschwitz and keeper Clara Sporrer. The Cubs also returned valuable contributors Erin Sellberg and Sydney See.
Nevada moved Rhodes to sweeper to replace all-state performer Danielle Thomsen and the Cubs didn’t miss a beat on defense. Meanwhile, senior Emma Lodestein stepped in at a midfielder spot and the team’s other senior – Willow Griffith – and sophomore Ally West provided valuable minutes off the bench.
A talented freshman class then took Nevada to the next level.
Abby Stephenson stepped in at midfielder and was the team’s leading scorer this season. Kaylee Kruschwitz moved in for talented graduate Amber Ramthun at charger and played at a high level all season.
Skye Borton became a big contributor off the bench at midfield and Holly Coogler, Izzy Kapustka and Gillian Tupper also provided valuable minutes.
Stephenson finished the season with 22 goals and 13 assists, Helton had 20 goals and 12 assists, Kati Cassabaum put up 13 goals and six assists and Elli finished with nine goals and one assist before her season was cut short late in the regular season due to an ACL injury.
Sellberg was a force off the bench at forward with nine goals and two assists and Matuska added eight goals and six assists. Rhodes ended up with three goals, Coogler netted two and Borton, Lodestein, Kaylee Kruschwitz, See, Bremer, West and Saunders each had one.
On defense the Cubs were phenomenal. Sporrer gave up only nine goals and she made 96 saves, receiving outstanding support from Rhodes, Saunders and the Kruschwitz girls in the back four.
Overall Nevada totaled 15 shutouts on the season.
As tough as it will be to lose Helton, Lodestein and Griffith, Nevada is already excited for next season. Coming off such a successful campaign, with so much talent coming back, the Cubs will again be in the hunt for their first-ever state championship in 2015.
"It’s a goal," Davis said. "We didn’t make that goal this year, so we’ll just keep it on the table for next year."