DES MOINES, Iowa — Brendan Stephany turned back all the liners, long balls and breakaway shots. Of all things, it was a soft floater that got through.
The St. Albert goalkeeper led an impressive defensive effort for the Falcons during the opening round of the Iowa Class 1-A state boys soccer tournament Thursday. But three-time defending state champion Iowa City Regina finally broke through with a finesse header in the second half to prevail 1-0 at a rain-soaked Cownie Soccer Park.
“I would have rather him (hit a) rocket than just popping one up over,” St. Albert coach Tom Lorkovic said. “But he was in the right place at the right time.”
Regina freshman Michael Adam took a cross from teammate Ben Spanick deep in the box during the fateful 49th minute. He used his noggin to guide the ball barely above and past Stephany into the right side of the goal.
Suddenly, seventh-rated and fourth-seeded St. Albert (16-6) needed two scores – something it did in only half its games entering Thursday.
“One guy just got loose,” Stephany said. “I don’t know who was supposed to mark up on him – I don’t want to know – but he got a great head to it.
“It heights the drive to come back here and play even better the next time we’re up here.”
The play marred a spectacular showing by the junior and his back-line defenders. Stephany made 18 saves, corralling multiple point-blank hot shots and making a handful of diving grabs.
St. Albert’s offense couldn’t offer much time for a breather against the second-rated and fifth-seeded Regals (16-5-1). The Falcons attempted just two shots on goal – one coming on a bouncing free-kick try and another late in the game on a throw-in play. Their three corner kicks never seriously threatened, and a pair of open midrange looks in the last 10 minutes both sailed well wide.
A depleted forward corps predictably struggled Regina’s swarming defense, which posted its 10th shutout. St. Albert’s leading scorer, sophomore Francisco Barajas, stayed in the midfield to help with ball control and the team’s No. 2 option, junior Nate Dunning, didn’t play for disciplinary reasons.
“I don’t know what happened today,” Barajas said. “I don’t know if it was because it was raining and wet, but our touches were not (going) right. We tried our best.”
Both coaches agreed the soccer was much crisper than when the schools met at a tournament in late April. That day, Regina led 2-0 at halftime en route to a 2-1 triumph.
Regina coach Rick Larew said that experience paid dividends during a drizzly Thursday. The Regals took advantage of their considerable depth by rotating 16 kids into the game and emphasized attacking down the sidelines before making cross passes.
“This was fun to play,” Larew said. “Our kids did everything we asked, and it worked very, very well.”
Regina gets third-rated and top-seeded Waterloo Columbus (17-3-2) in a Friday semifinal at noon.
St. Albert, meanwhile, bids adieu to seniors Eric Assmann, Josh Cochran, Zachary Knott, Joe Avey and Luke Sneed. Avey, who didn’t play before this season, said the ride was worth all the long practices and frustrating moments.
“St. Albert has athletes,” Avey said. “We might not have soccer as our best sport, but we’re athletes and we stuck with (Regina). Working hard is what we do.”
Lorkovic said he hopes that effort continues year-round. Despite making their fourth straight trip to state, the Falcons are always looking to improve their numbers for when they encounter deep and talented teams in Des Moines.
That happened Thursday — even while playing one of their better matches of the season.
“It’s been an outstanding year,” Lorkovic said. “Expectations weren’t real high for this team for anybody, and the way they played, the way they competed up here says a lot.”
Iowa City Regina (16-5-1) ........... 0 1—1
St. Albert (16-6) .......... 0 0—0
Goal: R, Michael Adam. Assist: R, Ben Spanick.
DES MOINES — Sioux City West was looking for its first-ever win at the state tournament. It didn’t come close.
The unrated and eighth-seeded Wolverines were blasted by top-rated and top-seeded Iowa City West 8-0 Thursday evening at Cownie Soccer Park. I.C. West (19-1) moves on to face sixth-rated and fourth-seeded Ames (18-2-1) in a Class 3-A semifinal at 5 p.m. Friday.
The Wolverines close their season with a 12-8 record. They also lost at state in the first round last year.