By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – It is easy for anyone outside of the tightly-knit circle that is the City High soccer program to look at the Little Hawks this spring and focus on who is missing from last season.
Nine seniors responsible for nearly 60 percent of the Little Hawks’ goals are gone from the most successful team in program history.
The Little Hawks’ top two goal scorers, captains, all-state and all-conference players are all among the players lost to graduation from last season’s Class 3A runner-up squad that won its first 20 games.
Everyone inside the City High program agrees the days of expectations hinging on returning personnel are a thing of the past.
“I would say we have gotten to the point where we have built up the program to where every year we have the same expectations,” City High junior captain Jackson Meyer said. “A few years ago, we graduated five starting seniors and the next year we graduated both of our center backs and each of the following years we had a better season and raised the standard. That’s what we expect to do this year.”
Long-time coach Jose Fajardo has spent more than a decade turning City High into one of the premier programs in the state.
City High has posted 15 wins each of the last six seasons and reached the state tournament five straight times, playing for 3A titles in 2013 and 2016.
The roster changes each season at City High, for the past half a decade the expectation of winning a state title have stayed the same.
“The way this program has kind of built up it just seems like no matter how many seniors we lose or how many key players we lose there is always someone else coming up,” City High junior captain Jonah Dancer said. “With a great coach like Jose he can get us to do what we did last season and do what we did the season before that.”
Last season City High came as close as it ever has to reaching its sky-high expectations.
City High won 20 straight games by a combined score of 71-5 before falling to West Des Moines Valley in the 3A title match.
Despite the losses of eight starters from last season the Little Hawks have no plans to take a step back.
“We still have the same goals,” Fajardo said. “You have to be realistic if you lose a big class and you don’t have the players but with what we have this year the expectations are as big as they were last year.”
There are reasons those expectations haven’t changed.
Under Fajardo the Little Hawks have built a deep and talented program that has annually plugged in players to replace departed stars without skipping a beat.
City High spent much of last season atop the Iowa High School Soccer Coaches Association rankings and opens this season ranked second in 3A behind West Des Moines Valley.
“Everybody wants to beat the number one team and you become almost like the ugly team because everybody wants to beat you,” Fajardo said. “We were there, we wanted to beat that beautiful team and we are there as that team now we need to know how to handle it.”
“I think that is one of probably one of the best things that we do here is making sure that the kids stay humble that the kids understand where we were a few years ago and don’t forget about it.”
Despite the loss of eight starters the cupboard is far from bare at City High.
Meyer and Dancer each scored five goals last season and return with two years of experience under their belts as juniors.
Senior goalkeeper Sam Tomek returns after allowing seven goals and posting 16 shutouts last season while being named a second-team all-state selection.
Senior Rasmus Schlutter ranked third on the team in goals (6) and assists (6) last season and is one of seven returning players that scored at least two goals last season.
“I think we are overall strong as a team,” Meyer said. “We don’t rely on any one player, that has been something that has been really good for us the last few years we don’t have one guy with 15 goals we have a bunch of guys who scored six, seven or eight goals and everyone is contributing.”
Fajardo likes the young crop of up and coming players for City High.
Even if they weren’t logging 80 minutes of varsity action per game last season, Fajardo saw the young players challenge his varsity starters daily.
“I think that the good thing is the majority of the players were here even if they didn’t play and they smell it,” Fajardo said. “They were part of the success even if it was on the bench but they saw what it takes to be successful and what you have to do and the way we did it.”
Last season was an incredible success that ended with a disappointing 3-1 loss to West Des Moines Valley in the state title match.
The expectation is to have a chance to avenge that title game loss this season.
“It hurts and it hurt for a while but you just have to rebuild and try again, that’s what we are going to do again this year,” Dancer said. “Get to state and win it, that’s our goal and that’s what we are going to try to do this year and every year.”