Your Prep Sports
DES MOINES – With a roster loaded with sophomores, quick starts and early leads have become paramount for West High.
After two goals in the first four minutes of last week’s substate final helped propel West to the boys’ soccer state tournament for a state-record 23rd time, it took less than five minutes for the Trojans to show they are intent on staying a while.
“It’s good for this young team to have a little bit of a cushion,” longtime West High coach Brad Stiles said after the third-seeded Trojans defeated No. 6 Cedar Rapids Kennedy, 2-0, in a Class 4A state quarterfinal match Wednesday night at Cownie Soccer Complex in Des Moines. “Five or eight minutes in, whenever that goal came.”
It was the fifth minute, and the early advantage arrived off the foot of junior standout Kaleab Wendy.
“They played me a great ball, that is all I know,” Wendy said. “I had to finish it.”
The goal was the team-best 16th this season for Wendy, who transferred from Iowa City Regina after his sophomore year to unite with his teammates from the Iowa Soccer Club.
“It felt pretty good,” Wendy said. “Now playing together, it feels really good. We are having an amazing season and we are doing really well.”
After hitting the crossbar with a shot on goal in the third minute, West High senior Michael Nelson broke through and added a valuable insurance goal less than seven minutes before halftime to send the Trojans to the break with a 2-0 advantage.
“I think I could have had a couple more before that,” Nelson said. “I was a little upset about that, but I just knew I had to stay composed, take care of myself and finish on target and I think I did that.”
Wendy and Nelson have combined for 29 goals this season.
“Those two up top together are definitely a pair,” Stiles said.
Bolstered by a fantastic defensive effort from senior Corentin Charles and a pair of senior center backs in Amre Ibrahim and Ruichar Medina, West High (16-2) held an opponent scoreless for the eighth time this season and was the first group to keep Kennedy out of the net all season.
“I think it is all about the running,” Charles said. “Defense, you can plan, you can prepare, whatever you want. But the other attackers, they are not going to stop. Just because you have a plan, it doesn’t mean it is always going to work out. You have got to put in the effort.”
The defensive intensity was reminiscent of the previous meeting between the two teams less than three weeks ago at Coe College in Cedar Rapids.
That night, West High won the Mississippi Valley Conference championship after upending the Cougars, 3-1.
“Each game is a new game,” Charles said. “Beating an opponent twice in a row is probably the hardest thing you can do because they want to beat you back. They have got that incentive to beat you. It was a big win. It was not easy.”
Cedar Rapids Kennedy ends its season at 12-3 with two losses to West High.
The win delivered the Trojans to the state semifinals for a remarkable 17th time in the last 20 tournaments.
West High will play second-ranked West Des Moines Dowling (16-2) Thursday at 7:10 p.m.
Since the quarterfinal round was postponed to Wednesday due to weather, it means the semifinal matchup will be staged with just one night of rest for both teams.
“I think at this point, we just have to recover and do a little bit of homework,” Stiles said. “Get the guys ready to go again.”