State Soccer: Fifth-seeded Greene County seeks revenge against two-time champion, Regina
By BRANDON HURLEY
DES MOINES - Revenge is a glorious and fleeting concept. Past championships mean nothing when the newbies know they can hang with the state’s blue bloods.
Historically speaking, Greene County should be terrified of their first round opponent.
Heavy emphasis on should. It’s ambiguous language not often found in Greene County’s vocabulary.
Most schools should take awhile before they see success. Most should regress when a rare talent by the way of Leo Marques departs. Many inexperienced teams should crack under the substate pressure.
But Greene County is not like most programs, they are one built for the bright lights.
The Rams certainly maintain little fear as they embark on the school’s first-ever state tournament trip this week.
The fifth-seeded Rams open 2019 Class 1A state tournament play at noon Thursday in Des Moines against two-time defending state champion and fourth-seeded Iowa City Regina.
Familiarity and redemption are the two themes to keep an eye on Thursday, as Greene County squares off against a foe they’ve already matched wits with this spring.
GCHS took the tradition-rich Regals to the brink back on May 4, eventually falling in a penalty shootout. Injuries plagued a short-handed Rams squad despite playing to a 3-3 tie in regulation. They were without goalkeeper Cael Fisher while the defensive backline was depleted, missing one defender while another, Victor Santos, was relegated to the goal. Santos still came away with 14 saves in his varsity debut, though the defense struggled to find a cohesiveness.
Despite that, the Rams (14-5) scored three times as the state’s leading scorer found the back of the net twice while Luis Velazco tapped in one of his 27 goals.
This time around, Greene County is at full strength, riding a six-game winning streak, flying high off back-to-back playoff wins over ranked foes. The record-setting Rams are locked and loaded for the biggest test of the season on the brightest stage.
“Having our full team back and having a few games under our belt with Cael back, we feel really good about that,” Greene County head coach said. “We just now need to flip it the other way and make sure we are doing the small things and walk off with a victory.”
Iowa City Regina (15-6) has scored 56 goals while only allowing 22, which boils down to an average of 1.107 goals against per game.
The Regals have won 51 games over the last three years. They’ve won six straight games during state tournament play, capturing the last two state championships, out-lasting Des Moines Christian, 2-1 in the 2018 state title game.
Regina has allowed just a single goal in Des Moines over the last two years, providing quite the formidable first test.
Ball control, like any soccer game, is vital, especially when the Rams lace it up for the state tournament. They’ve really come into their own as of late, holding the state’s highest scoring team to just two goals in the substate final (beating AHSTW, 2-1) while turning back high-scoring Riverside to the tune of just single goal in the game prior.
Defensive pressure will be key Thursday.
Iowa City Regina is essentially a one trick pony, as they are led by Alec Wick, who’s scored a team-high 29 times. No other Regal has cracked the double digit mark, as Kieler Brown comes in at nine goals. No other Regal has scored more than three times.
While Greene County is led by one of the most prolific forwards in state history (Junior Gutierrez), they can also lean on Luis Velazco, who’s also chipped in 27 goals of his own. Chasing two lethal forwards all game can wear on even the most stalwart of defenses. Regina has quite the tall task in front of them.
“Really, there are two things (we can do to win),” Behne said. “Controlling the midfield, first and foremost. If we can do that like we have been, I’ll feel really good.
And, of course, we have to stop their main goal scorer. Our backline has to play smart and communicate.”
Senior Austin Delp all but essentially guaranteed a victory Thursday, reiterating the thoughts and feelings of his head coach. Greene County, at full-strength, is one of the more dangerous teams in the state. They’ve proven it after scoring 106 times in just 19 games.
“We know (this) is a winnable game. Cael was out (when we played them earlier) and he plays a big role,” Delp said. “We are going to play hard, and I think we win.”
If the Rams do advance to the Class 1A semifinals, they’ll either take on top-seeded North Polk (14-3) or No. 8 seed West Liberty (10-7) at noon Friday.
North Polk knocked off Greene County, 2-1 April 30 in Alleman, a game that was impacted by chilling rains and blistering winds. The Comets have won five straight and 14 of their last 15 games since starting the year 0-2. They are a low-scoring squad reliant on their incredibly stout defense. The Comets have allowed just eight goals all year, a sparkling goals against average of 0.401.
Goalkeeper Alex Tiedens has secured nine clean sheets while turning back 91 shots (92.9 save percentage). Luke McCoy has scored 13 of North Polk’s 39 goals.
West Liberty has scored 38 times this spring, bouncing back from a 3-5 start to reach the state tournament, a run of incredible bravery. They are led by Gabe Seele (11 goals), who helped pull off a monumental upset of then No. 1 Waterloo Columbus back on May 13. West Liberty upset Burlington Notre Dame in the substate final, holding the fourth-highest scoring team (89 goals) to just a single goal.
Behne is more than satisfied with Greene County’s state tournament draw, as they avoid Columbus until the title game. Waterloo Columbus knocked off Regina earlier in the year and has allowed just eight goals all season.
If not for a few mistakes, Greene County may be rolling into the state tournament as the top seed. The mark of a great team is if those same players can adjust, enact a short memory and produce even better results the second time around.
“If anything, we know (North Polk and Regina) and we played well against them,” Behne said. “I think our boys are going to walk in with a strong sense of confidence that they can compete. It’s about playing our game no matter who we are against. We played them, and we competed.”
Saturday’s Class 1A state championship game is set for 12 noon at James Cownie Soccer Complex in Des Moines. All state tournament games will take place at the soccer complex, with the opening contest against Regina set to take place on field 8.