West High Falls to Ames in Class 3A Semifinals
Your Prep Sports
DES MOINES – You’re not likely to see their kind walk this way again anytime soon.
Although the season ended for the Iowa City West girls soccer team with a 2-1 state semifinal loss to Ames Friday, the Women of Troy have left a powerful legacy. In the last four seasons West has one state championship, one runner-up, one semifinal and one quarterfinal finish.
Seniors Emma Cooper and Regan Steigleder were as talented and productive a one-two punch as any public high school has a right to dream of, and they led the way.
“West High’s always had a good soccer team, and I’m honored to be part of a state championship and being able to go all four years to the state tournament,” Cooper said. “But I think the most powerful thing is we’re just a very close-knit team. I’ve made really quality friends over the past four years.”
“We have a great coaching staff and a great group of girls, and I think if championships were based on team chemistry we would have won,” Steigleder said.
The match itself was quirky and left more than a fair share of what-if scenarios.
West (19-2) took the lead when Steigleder reentered in the first half after sitting out 10 minutes with a left-ankle injury after having been fouled. Trainer Sheila Stiles treated and rewrapped the ankle, but Steigleder wasn’t able to make the sharp cuts that are her trademarks while dribbling.
Yet one minute after reentering the game Steigleder got the ball on the left side of the goal and angled a shot with that same left foot into the net. West led 1-0 in the 35th minute.
“I think I injured myself a little more because it was my left foot,” she said.
Fifteen minutes into the second half the official called a foul on West keeper Katie McGrane, who was chasing a loose ball in the box and collided with Ames’ Hartley Christensen.
“Hartley came across the field, and she was able to get a touch past her,” Ames coach Bobby Myers said. “The goalie was able to catch her ankle, so she wasn’t able to get free to finish off the shot. It was the right call.”
West coach Dave Rosenthal didn’t question the call itself but said he didn’t see it clearly.
“I do know you should never have a situation where the keeper is faced with a decision like that,” he said. “They try to protect the goalkeeper. They cut them a little bit of slack on a 50-50 ball, but maybe that’s not the way they saw it.”
Ames sophomore Melina Hegelheimer, an Iowa soccer commit, scored the penalty kick, and it was a new game.
“That (score) definitely helped,” Myers said. “We had some opportunities and we finally got a good counterattack and were able to put the pressure on them and get a good opportunity. It was a PK, but a goal is a goal.”
Rosenthal lauded Hegelheimer’s play for Ames.
“She decided to come and play in the second half,” he said. “She took that game over in the last 20 minutes. She said ‘Let’s go,’ and took her team to another level and started to attack, and we didn’t have a solution to her in the central midfield.”
In the 63rd minute Steigleder had a free kick after a foul on top of the box and to the left. The ball was well struck and curved into Ames keeper Dana Gustafson. The ball bounded off her and appeared to pass the posts far enough to count as a goal. Gustafson reached back and batted the ball back into the field of play. The officials ruled the ball had not crossed the line and play continued.
“They said it didn’t go in but, I don’t know. I thought it went in, but I guess not,” Steigleder said.
A goal there would have given West the lead and the momentum, but instead it remained tied. Ames managed to sneak in a goal with 10 minutes remaining on a shot by freshman Lucy Weninger, who was part of a scrum of players in close on the left side.
“I think it was Mel that played it through to me. I took a touch on the ball and I think it was going in but I just wanted to have that last touch on the ball before the defender beat me to it,” Weniger said. “I just buried it.”
“We didn’t stop them in central midfield when they won the ball,” Rosenthal said. “They just kind of attacked with the dribble, and we’ve got to be able to step in there and stop that ball.”
The Women of Troy had several shots hit the posts or crossbar during the 80 minutes and Gustafson saved several others that would have found the net. Ames’ defense was set up to frustrate attacks up the middle and it did just that.
“I felt like in the second half we were throwing it at them, but we just couldn’t get our shots on target,” Cooper said. “We were a little sloppy.”
“Ames is a bend-don’t-break defense,” Rosenthal said. “We were creating some of the opportunities we wanted to. They stuffed it up very well and didn’t leave too many holes or too many gaps.”
Ames (16-3) plays West Des Moines Valley (16-3) for the championship Saturday.
Rosenthal was asked about the legacy of this group and he said he doesn’t put much stock in the numbers, which are impressive in their own right in terms of victories, conference titles and state appearances.
What he sees is the way these players have created their own version of the beautiful game.
“This team, despite statistics, was an absolutely phenomenal team to watch,” he said. “One of these days when I look back at my career I’m going to take these four years…and take a look at the types of goals that have been scored, the types of development of play and you watch where they are, what they do with the ball.
“It’s been unbelievable. It’s a coach’s dream to say, ‘Just watch.’ It’s clip after clip after clip that could be highlight films. And that’s what I’m going to enjoy about this.”