Why this Nevada boys soccer team is poised to make first state tournament since 2018
NEVADA — Nevada doesn't want to let this momentum subside.
After getting upset by Marion in the Class 2A substate semifinals last year, the Cubs are back down to Class 1A this year. They started the season off slow, dropping two of their first four matches, but then reeled off six wins in a row.
The hot streak earned Nevada the No. 11 ranking in 1A by the Iowa High School Soccer Coaches Association. But the Cubs lost to a Dallas Center-Grimes team, rated fourth in 2A, last Thursday by a 4-1 score then split two games during the Nebraska versus Iowa Border Battle Saturday at the Gale Wickersham Athletic Complex in Council Bluffs.
With two losses in three games, Nevada needed to turn the tide in order avoid a slump and stay in position to make a run at state.
On Monday, Nevada took a big step toward getting its groove back with a 2-1 shootout victory over a Perry team ranked ninth in 2A at Cub Stadium in Nevada.
"Tonight was a tough one," Cubs head coach Todd Sampson said. "We knew it was going to be tough coming in and I think the guys responded. They gave us 100 minutes of good soccer then made the shots at the end to get us over the top."
Edgar Cabrera scored a goal with 2:45 left on the clock in regulation to tie the score and force overtime.
“Sometimes it takes a little bit for us to get our pace going,” Cabrera said. “Once we’re finally able to make passes, we’re able to get shots and, the more we get off, it’s inevitable we’ll finally get a goal. It just happened to be me.”
After two scoreless extra sessions, the game went into a shootout, where keeper Owen Freeman and forward Drew Robinson came up clutch.
Freeman deflected a shot by Jonathan Munoz on Perry's final attempt.
"I haven't had much luck on the PK spot," Freeman said. "This one, obviously I did very well on it. It gave me a lot of confidence."
Robinson followed by converting his penalty kick to give the Cubs the win after they converted on all 5 of their PKs.
"The weight of the world just came off my shoulders," Robinson said. "I think I was about to pass out honestly."
The Cubs (7-4) haven't been to state in boys soccer since 2018. They were knocked off by North Polk in the substate finals in 2019, missed out on a season due to COVID-19 in 2020 and then suffered the upset loss to Marion last year.
They want to return to the Cownie Soccer Park in May and Monday's victory was a big step in the right direction.
"There's some drive," Sampson said. "Last year was a learning experience. I'd still consider us a young team. We're growing and finding our way and the style of play we like."
Those younger players have had time to develop at a comfortable pace thanks to the play of Robinson and Cabrera. The two juniors have combined for 15 goals and nine assists.
"They're literally a threat every time they touch the ball," Sampson said. "It's a luxury to have."
Midfielder Kent Sponseller has five goals and one assist, and five more Cubs have scored two goals. Freeman is also coming on at keeper. Entering the Perry game, he had 42 saves and allowed 16 goals.
"Owen has played well all season," Sampson said. "He's still learning, which is great. He strives to get better every day and it was just a matter of time that he was going to get a piece of one of these (PKs) tonight and obviously he did."
But while talent is emerging for Nevada, Robinson said it's how strong the Cub players are between the ears that will ultimately determine if they can make it back to state.
"We're not going to win every game off of our soccer skill," Robinson said. "It's all going to come down to how hard we can work. We're playing two or three games a week right now and it's hard on the body. It's just the mental toughness. We need to keep pushing through and go hard every ball."
The weather has also been an obstacle this season. But the Cubs are trying to make the most of it.
"It's cold, but sometimes we like the cold," Robinson said. "It just adds to the fun."
Nevada hosts Central Iowa United Thursday then goes up against Ballard before hosting the Nevada Invitational May 7. The Cubs also have games at Greene County and Grinnell to close out the regular season.
The Cubs don't plan on letting their feet off the gas in those final games.
"We're hitting our stride again," Freeman said. "Our team is pulling together. We have good energy and everything we need to get through to state, and hopefully win it."