GILBERT – Nevada began the season looking like a team capable of contending for a state championship and Gilbert showed it isn’t that far behind in a battle between two top-10 girls’ soccer programs to start the season Monday.
Nevada, ranked No. 3 in Class 1A and a state semifinalist a year ago, pulled off a 2-0 victory over the No. 7 Tigers at the new Gilbert High School Stadium.
"It’s definitely a great way to start the season," Nevada forward Jessica Helton said. "We’re going to keep rolling from here."
Helton had a hand in both goals for Nevada.
With 13 minutes gone in the first half, Gilbert’s defense found itself out of position and Helton took advantage. She slipped a ball over to sophomore sensation Kati Cassabaum and Cassabaum put it into the net to give Nevada a 1-0 lead.
Nevada maintained the slim edge through the rest of the half. The Cubs had a golden opportunity to go up by two scores 13 minutes into the second half when Helton followed up a deflected shot by Cub forward Elli Cassabaum, but Nevada was ruled offside on the play.
Nevada continued to control possession for most of the final 27 minutes. With just under four minutes remaining in regulation, the Cubs found a way to break through and ice the game.
Desperately needing to find a way to score in the final minutes of play, Gilbert moved a midfielder up to forward to get something going on offense. That left the Tiger defensive back line vulnerable, and the Cubs took advantage as Helton followed a deflected ball between two Gilbert defenders – outracing them to punch the ball into the net.
"It came between somebody’s legs and I found a little bit of an opening and just shot it," Helton said. "I was mad about the offsides (earlier), so it felt good."
Defensively, Nevada dominated Gilbert in the second half to finish with the shutout.
"We got back on our heels in the second half," Gilbert head coach Dan Jones said. "We should’ve been as aggressive as we were after they scored their first goal."
The presence of veteran fullback Raegan Saunders in the lineup helped give Nevada a big boost on defense.
Saunders tore her ACL in Nevada’s state semifinal loss to Davenport Assumption last season. After missing volleyball season, Saunders came back to get limited minutes in the second half of basketball season, and now she’s getting close to 100 percent.
"It was definitely awesome coming back from that," Saunders said. "Basketball definitely helped it. If I didn’t do basketball, I don’t think I’d be back to 100 percent."
Saunders teams with returning starter Lexi Kruschwitz to give Nevada one of the top fullback tandems in 1A. The talented duo provides great support for a couple of newcomers on defense.
Former Cub forward Mara Rhodes is replacing all-state performer Danielle Thomsen at sweeper. At charger, freshman Kaylee Kruschwitz is taking over for talented graduate Amber Ramthun.
The game against Gilbert was the perfect early test for the Cub defense and they passed with flying colors.
"We knew coming in it was going to be pretty tough," Saunders said. "Anytime we play them they go 100 percent and work hard every time. We knew they were going to push and try and score as fast as they can. Mara did an awesome job in her first game and Kaylee as a freshman also did a really good job."
Nevada plays at North Polk tonight. The game will start at 5:30 p.m. in Alleman.
Nevada 2, Gilbert 0
N 1 1 – 2
G 0 0 – 0
N – Kati Cassabaum (Jessica Helton), 13th minute
N – Helton, 77th minute