DES MOINES – It was better late than never for second-ranked Nevada in its Class 1A state semifinal game with third-rated Iowa City Regina Friday at the Cownie Sports Complex.
A perfectly executed exchange between Kati Cassabaum and Abby Stephenson nearly seven minutes into overtime resulted in a thrilling 1-0 Cub victory that put Nevada in the state championship game for the first time in school history.
"To play in the championship game…I can’t even describe it," Nevada junior fullback Raegan Saunders said. "I’ve been dreaming of doing this for as long as I’ve been playing soccer."
Nevada controlled most of regulation, but the Cubs couldn’t put the finishing touches on any balls near the goal against a tough Regal defense. That continued in the first overtime period until Cassabaum found herself running free on a Nevada goal kick by sweeper Mara Rhodes just over 6 ½ minutes into the extra session.
"Mara was taking the goal kick, no one was around me and I looked back and saw a wide-open lane and Abby standing right outside of it," Cassabaum said. "I gave Mara a little wave, she passed it right at me and I knew if I got that to Stevie she’ll get through them. It worked exactly like I imagined it. It was perfect."
Stephenson outran the Regina defenders to the ball, made one move in front of Regal keeper Hanna Stein and calmly drilled a shot into the back of the net to keep Nevada’s unbeaten season intact and put the Cubs in tomorrow’s title game.
"Unbelievable," Stephenson said. "After so many shots on goal we finally got one through. Oh my gosh! It’s a great feeling."
Stephenson is just a freshman, but she doesn’t play like one. The leading scorer for the Cubs on the season, she displayed great poise and concentration on the winning goal.
"When I got through and saw their keeper coming out, I knew exactly what I had to do," Stephenson said. "I really wasn’t fazed. It’s happened so many times in other games; I just knew exactly what I had to do and finished it here and that’s where it counts."
"We try to tell her to relax and let the game come to you and she just has fun doing it," Nevada head coach Randy Davis added. "We don’t put age in there at all."
Constant pressure from Stephenson, Cassabaum, Jessica Helton, Michaela Matuska and Abby Bremer helped Nevada dominate the first half offensively. The Cubs also received a boost from several outstanding direct kicks by Rhodes.
But Regina showed why it is one of the best teams in 1A by fending off every Cub attack in the opening 40 minutes.
It was more of the same story in the second half, especially in the final 15 minutes. But the Regal defense refused to crack, forcing the game into overtime.
The Cubs defeated the Regals by a 1-0 score in last year’s state quarterfinals, so they knew they were in for a fight.
"They countered nicely and a had couple shots there, including one I thought for sure was in," Davis said. "We played them last year here, so we expected a good game. Our motto has been we play the whole 80 minutes. This one took a little longer. It was a great game."
Regina got off a few good looks at the goal to put a little bit of a scare into the Cub faithful.
With nine minutes left in the first half, Regina’s Hanna Yowell broke through the Cub defense and fired off a low liner that was snared by all-state Nevada keeper Clara Sporrer. The Regals’ Katie Wick hit one off the near post 23 minutes into the second half and three minutes, later Lauren Ronnfeldt hit a long shot that went just a little high over the outstretched arm of Sporrer.
"I’m so thankful to have Clara back there," Saunders said. "We’re never nervous when we have a breakdown, because we know Clara is going to get there every single time."
The victory put Nevada at 21-0. Regina finished the season at 15-5.
Nevada 1, Iowa City Regina 0 (OT)
ICR 0 0 0 – 0
N 0 0 1 – 1
N – Abby Stephenson (Kati Cassabaum), 86:55