GOLDEN VICTORY: Roberts sends Greene County to state with electrifying shootout goal
By BRANDON HURLEY
URBANDALE - Greene County’sAlex Roberts had his doubts.
The senior knew it was his time to shine, even if he hadn’t quite mastered the vaunted penalty kick.
Sure, he'd practiced penalty kicks plenty of times before, but this was the most pressure-packed moment he'd ever experienced.
Regardless, the Greene County forward knew he'd have to step up, no matter how uncomfortable he felt.
With the Rams tied at 3 in their shootout with West Central Valley in the Class 1A, Substate 7 final May 26, he calmly walked to the line. Greene County’s leading scorer swung his right leg with as much power as he could, freezing the WCV keeper, watching with relief and joy as the ball fall, unobstructed into the back side of the net.
A jubilant celebration ensued.
Roberts’ game-winning, shootout goal, had victoriously secured Greene County its second-ever trip to the state tournament, sending the team into a wild dog pile.
Roberts was rather subdued and reflective following his historic goal. All the pressure landed on the veteran, and he could certainly sense it.
“I knew it was going to come down to me. I felt it,” Roberts said, slowly coming down from an endless stream of smiles, cheers and hugs. “I knew it was time to finally prove myself. And after my shots kept getting blocked in practice, I managed to put one across the line.”
The Rams had spent nearly 45 minutes of gameplay in the lead thanks to Gesser Aguilar’s goal 17 minutes into the contest. But things became a tad more interesting when West Central Valley connected on an equalizer with 12 minutes left in the second half.
The Wildcats, held stagnant for much of the game thanks to strong play from Greene County’s freshman goalkeeper, Gabe Ebersole, were now even with the Rams, eventually leading to overtime. Neither team could can much traction in the two, Golden Goal (sudden death) 10-minute periods, which gave way to a shootout. Each team would get five attempts at a kick from 10 yards out, with each ensuing try essentially a winner-takes-all attempt. A shootout often can lead to anticlimactic outcomes, but this one was not one of those.
Roberts evolved into a hero last week on the Des Moines Christian High School campus, and a well-deserving one. As the Rams’ most experienced, active forward, he knew what was required to reach the state tournament. Roberts is one of only three remaining starters from Greene County’s 2019 state tournament qualifying run, becoming the first athletes in school history to reach state twice. Last week’s substate final victory was just as rewarding, if not more after all the pain the Rams have endured.
“It felt great,” Roberts said. “The whole place went silent in my head, then I looked over at our team and they were jumping up. It was phenomenal.”
Greene County, despite its brief yet short soccer history, overcame a lifetime’s worth of adversity to reach Des Moines yet again, a journey basked in perseverance and fortitude.
The Rams began the year 1-2 overall, losing their leading scorer in the process, Luis Velazco (six goals) halfway through the fourth game of the year. The senior, who’d scored nearly 30 goals as a sophomore in 2019, suffered a serious leg injury against Carroll, ending his final season and leaving Greene County with a major offensive gap.
The Rams only had one remaining guy on the roster who’d ever scored a varsity goal prior to the 2021 season (Alex Roberts) while hoping to somehow replace more than 80 goals from the 2019 squad. A tough schedule didn’t add any favors into the mix. A young squad needed to mold together quickly, and with success. The bumps and bruises continued to pile up, hindered by a couple of demoralizing shutouts along the way (Winterset and Nevada come to mind), though Greene County kept grinding away, hanging around in the Class 1A rankings, finishing the year on a 13-4 run, tying the school record for wins at 14.
Though Greene County (14-6) was scoring goals at a much lower rate than years past (The Rams have scored 44 goals in 20 games this spring compared to 106 goals in 2019 and 75 in 2018), their defense has been rather impressive, providing the brunt of success. The Rams’ back line stiffened when it mattered most, nearly shutting out both Van Meter and West Central Valley in the substate tournament, holding each school scoreless for the first 65 minutes of game play.
Greene County continued to find a will to win in a variety ways, which made the latest state tournament berth that much sweeter.
“I’m so proud of this team,” Greene County head coach Carl Behne said. “We kept our heads up and we battled. We are thrilled to be right back where we were in 2019.”
Greene County has twice qualified for the state tournament, an impressive feat just three full season into its existence. The Rams have won 38 games during that span, scoring 225 goals.
The Rams drew the fifth seed in the Class 1A state tournament, which pits them against three-time defending champion Iowa City Regina, the bracket's fourth seed. The state quarterfinal match was set for 12:10 p.m. Tuesday, June 1 in Des Moines. Regina had won nine straight tournament games dating back to 2017, including an overtime victory over Greene County in the first round of the 2019 state tournament.
Tuesday’s winner will take on either top-seeded Burlington Notre Dame (20-1) or Columbus Catholic (12-8) in the Class 1A state semifinals at 12 p.m. Thursday.