Your Prep Sports
CEDAR RAPIDS – Cedar Rapids Kennedy has finally started to believe.
After winning the first six matches of the season and vaulting to No. 1 in the Class 4A boys’ soccer rankings, an April 25 loss at Iowa City High had the Cougars reevaluating themselves.
“They felt it wasn’t real,” Cedar Rapids Kennedy Coach Adrian Evans said of the early-season success. “And then they have had to play some really tough games lately and they have really had to gut some stuff out.”
Proof of the Cougars’ own merit could only arrive in a gut-check rematch with City High with a berth in the state tournament on the line.
“We knew we could do it,” Kennedy senior forward Raymond Freund said after his goal in the 71st minute gave the 10th-ranked Cougars the lead for good in a 2-1 victory over No. 15 City High in a substate final Wednesday night at Kingston Stadium. “They beat us the first time. We knew we could do it if we keep working hard. That’s just, that’s what we do.”
With the victory, Cedar Rapids Kennedy (12-2) returns to the state tournament for the first time since 2019.
Since their last appearance, the Cougars had to endure the canceled 2020 season, plus substate defeats to rival Cedar Rapids Prairie in back-to-back seasons.
“We’re not content at all,” Evans said. “Respect is earned and we are starting to respect ourselves and I think that is a big thing for high school kids. Once they realize that, ‘Yeah maybe we can do this,’ they just take those next steps. It is phenomenal to watch them believe.”
After playing its three best players in the middle of the field in the first meeting with City High, Kennedy elected to move its top goal-scorer — senior midfielder Lwings Kabula — out wide, which opened things up for senior captain Carter Newhouse, who ended a scoreless stalemate with a goal in the 19th minute, his seventh score this season.
“They improved their team a little bit since the last time we played them,” City High senior Andrew Lopez said. “That is what we were trying to anticipate before the game.”
The Cougars’ lead held up until midway through the second half when Iowa City High junior Kevin Irakoze provided the equalizer with 18:36 left on the clock.
“After we got the goal, it was just like a whole bolt of electricity came up,” Lopez said. “We were like, ‘We’ve got this, we’re back in it.’ That’s what we needed. We had a lot of chances in the first half. We should have put those away.”
The 1-1 tie lasted less than four minutes as Freund punched home a ball that had deflected off the hands of the City High goalkeeper.
“I knew the keeper, he couldn’t catch the ball very well,” Freund said. “I just followed it in and I got it.”
Cedar Rapids Kennedy will open its 10th trip to the state tournament with a quarterfinal match on Tuesday at Cownie Soccer Park in Des Moines.
The Cougars have never won the state championship.
City High (8-7) graduates seven seniors off its roster, including top goal-scorer Emmitt Hansen, Wartburg signee Alima Mmunga and Barick Makabi, who will play college soccer at Saint Mary’s Minnesota.
This is the fourth Little Hawks’ season in a row that ends in a substate final.
“I don’t think that we ever got comfortable with this game,” City High coach Jose Fajardo said. “They are a hard team to play because they play in a different way than we play. We are not used to giving teams so much space between lines. We did not get into our possession. We made two mistakes on the goals. There were hands on both goals. Congrats to them. They are going to state and we are not.”