COUNCIL BLUFFS — One step away.
The message was hard to miss. For the Council Bluffs Lewis Central girls soccer team, the words used to tease, a haunting reminder at how close the Titans have been to the state tournament in recent seasons.
The phrase is a hopeful one again for Class 2-A No. 9 Lewis Central, which advanced to a regional final for a third consecutive year after shutting down Harlan 2-0 during semifinal action Tuesday evening on the Iowa Western campus.
A state trip is again one win — one step — away.
“That’s kind of the motto right now,” Lewis Central coach Chris Von Mende said. “It’s not going to be an easy step. We know that, and we’re going to prepare real hard this upcoming week.”
The last hurdle is No. 10 ADM (14-3), which edged Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson 3-2 Tuesday. Action begins at Iowa Western at 5 p.m. Monday.
Lewis Central senior Paige Flores gave her squad a chance to reach state for the first time since 2006. The midfielder burst through a trio of defenders near midfield and flew all the way in for a goal in the 21st minute.
“It builds everyone’s confidence and gets everyone going to get (a goal) off the bat,” Flores said. “Once I get my adrenaline going, I can get some speed up. I want to get to state this year, so that kind of pushes me.
“Last year we were one step away and the year before we were, too. Our team is really playing at our peak right now, and getting there would be something else.”
Junior forward Brooke Jensen scored in the 65th minute for Lewis Central (11-6) on a downfield pass from Michaela Ruis to put the game out of reach.
The best scoring opportunities for Harlan (8-10) came on five corner kicks. The Cyclones attempted four shots on goal to the hosts’ 18 and rarely threatened near the Titan net.
Lewis Central shut out Harlan for the second time this season after posting a 3-0 win April 26.
“Sun in the eyes, bad bounce, whatever,” Harlan coach Tony Vis said. “Unfortunately, when you play a good team, you need a little bit of luck, and we just never got that break.”
Harlan entered the contest winners of four of five games and played competitively despite an injury-depleted roster. The game was the last in red for Vis, who also resigned as the school’s girls basketball coach to accept a similar hoops position next year at Cedar Rapids Kennedy.
Lewis Central is working to overcome its own physical ailments. It continues to play without junior outside midfielders Brandi Johnson and Emma Ford, with freshmen Gabby Lancial and Madison Paulson filling in.
The Titans hope that resiliency continues for at least a few more days.
The main lesson from two years of heartbreak, Von Mende said, is to find a way to finish the shots the Titans do get. He’s already seen the alternative, when an opponent manages to stay in the game and finds a way to win late.
“It will be a challenge Monday,” Von Mende said. “I know the girls are up for the challenge. A good week of work, then an exciting match.”
Harlan (8-10)......................0 0—0
Lewis Central (11-6).........1 1—2
Goals: LC, Paige Flores, Brooke Jensen. Assist: LC, Michaela Ruis.