By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
DES MOINES – Watching the final games of the regular season Will Peterson was nervous.
It wasn’t back-to-back losses to Waterloo West and Cedar Rapids Washington or the thought of West High missing out on a return trip to the state tournament that had Peterson concerned.
What had the nerves churning for Peterson was the idea of watching his career come to an end from the sideline.
A concussion sustained in practice kept Peterson out of action for close to a month and with every game that passed his fear of sitting out the final game of his career grew.
“I was really worried that I was going to finish the season on the bench,” Peterson said.
That is no longer a concern for Peterson.
The senior defender returned to the field for the first time since April 27 for West High’s postseason opener against Mason City and has helped the Trojans win four straight matches to return to the 3A state title game for the eighth time in 11 seasons.
Peterson will close his career on the field when No. 13 West High (15-7) faces defending state champion and second-ranked West Des Moines Valley (20-3) in the 3A title match on Saturday at 5 p.m. at Cownie Soccer Complex in Des Moines.
“It was just a great feeling to get an opportunity to go play again and be able to run again,” Peterson said. “After missing those games to finish my career here at state is amazing.”
The late season push for West High coinciding with Peterson’s return to the Trojan back line is no coincidence.
With Peterson and fellow senior Conor Zielinski sidelined by injuries West High lost five of eight matches to close the regular season.
Both Peterson and Zielinski returned to the field in time for the postseason and the results and wins have followed.
“It helps to get Will Peterson and Conor Zielinski back for sure,” West High coach Brad Stiles said. “It helps a ton when you have all your ammo.”
On paper the stats for Peterson and Zielinski are expectedly modest as defenders.
The duo has combined for a goal and three assists this season.
There are plenty of things that don’t go on a state sheet that were missing without the senior duo on the field.
“They aren’t really in the position to have big stats but in our defense we are very senior dominated and it’s two seniors we lost,” fellow senior Zach Logsden said. “It’s just a big difference in experience and leadership without them.”
The first match without Peterson in the lineup was a 3-1 loss to Cedar Rapids Prairie back on May 2, a match that Zielinski also missed.
With the two seniors back on the field West High held the Hawks scoreless for the final 80 minutes of a 2-1 penalty kick win in the 3A quarterfinals on Thursday.
“We didn’t execute our game plan very well the first game, Brad was putting us in the right position we just didn’t execute,” Peterson said. “We had a lot of guys that were kind of hurt and I think we just kind of went in with not the best attitude but (Thursday) was totally different.”
The West High defense has been totally different with the return of its two seniors.
West High has allowed three goals in four postseason matches while outscoring opponents 19-4.
“I think when everyone is there we have a lot more confidence in each other,” Petersen said. “Connor Zilinski is definitely a big leader on the field so having him in there talking is a huge help.”