BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DAVENPORT – If Holy Trinity Head Coach Michael Sheerin had his way, the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union would just give automatic bids to the top two girls soccer teams in the state and let the rest battle it out.
For the second year in a row, his Crusaders were ousted by the No. 1 ranked Davenport Assumption Knights in the Region 8 finals. The Knights have given up just five goals on the year and have yet to be scored on in post season play and continued that trend with an 8-0 one-sided affair Monday night at St. Vincent’s Athletic Complex on the Assumption campus.
“My opinion, I look at a team like Assumption here. They’ve been at state every year, they’re young and they’re going to go again, That team should automatically go to state, why is that team playing to go to state? That to me doesn’t make any sense, I can’t explain that, but that should be the case.”
He said southeast Iowa has never gotten a break in coming out of the draws. He said two years ago Iowa City Regina was the top team in Class 1A and HTC banged against them two years in a row. Then Regina rotated out of the district and Assumption was put in the district and HTC has had to face them ranked No. 1 in the state for the past two years.
“If we don’t ever get a break coming out of southeast Iowa we’ll always have to come out and face the number one team in the state to get to state,” Sheerin said.
But he said that wasn’t an excuse for how the game got away from them. He said the plan coming in was to sit a zone defensively and move with the Knights to try to neutralize their high-scoring offense.
“If you look at these youngsters we did everything we could, but we did not have a great match,” Sheerin said. “There was a real fear that they would score early. We came in with a plan defensively to sit in a zone. It was working for while and we were shifting with them, but that first ball came through and we got a foot on it, but it was deflected and that opened up our defense for a goal.”
The first goal came with 29:25 left in the first period as the Crusaders were able to clear most of the Knights’ early offensive pushes. But a kick from the right side of the pitch sailed parallel to the back line and centered in front of the net. The Crusaders got a foot on the ball, but deflected it behind them where senior Molly Gervase was waiting to punch it in.
Holy Trinity didn’t get much going with the free kick and the Knights quickly had the ball back on offense. Junior Carly King appeared to have put Assumption ahead 2-0 but a goal was nullified for an offsides call at 27:55. However, the Knights quickly took control of the ball again and King this time threw in a header at 25:20 to make it 2-0.
The Crusaders were able to get their first run toward the Knights’ goal at about the 22-minute mark, but Assumption quickly took control and brought the ball back into their territory. Holy Trinity, behind the speed of sophomore Ashlynn Haas and Emily Box, was able to thwart the Knights for about 10 minutes but sophomore Sophie Kersten was able to slip aside a scrum in the box and push another ball past sophomore goalkeeper Sam Pothitakis for a 3-0 lead.
The Knights put two more shots in the net before the end of the half, but one was nullified again for offsides. Assumption’s junior Livy Lansing was able to put the fourth point on the board when Pothitakis came out of the box to contest some pressure and Lansing was able to slip to the side and slide the ball into the net.
Sheerin said the squad was having trouble getting touches and getting into the game due to the speed and strength of Assumption’s players.
“The bottom line is that we struggled to get the ball out,” he said. “They are so strong, they are fast and you’ve got girls out there hitting the ball 30 yards with no effort. Our biggest fear was playing a team that is used to this surface, and that’s not an excuse, but we could just not get in the game.”
The complex has a micropellet turf structure where soft rubber pellets lie loose beneath the turf to reduce strain on players joints and soften landings, a surface that is popular in most larger school districts.
“This is probably the hardest we’ve worked in a game, with the least amount of touches on the ball,” Sheerin said.
Assumption went quickly to work again in the second half scoring with just 2:18 elapsed in the period when sophomore Sully Kelly found the back of the net to make it 5-0. Kersten scored again at 21:42 and Gervase got her second goal of the night at the 19:04 mark. King was able to put the Knights up by 8 with a kick from the right side with 18 minutes left setting the final score.
Senior Maya Rashid said the Crusaders got a little frustrated with not being able to execute what normally works for them, but she said the team stayed positive and had fun.
“We got a little flustered on the field and we ended up not doing our passing game as we normally do. We weren’t composed. This was the most physical team we played this year for sure,” Rashid said after the game.
“But what we took out of this game was pride because for the past four years we’ve had to play the number one team in the state at substate and that’s an unfortunate event. But maybe that’s what we need to get these players and these coaches to be out here every year.”
Fellow senior Madison Mohrfeld said playing in southeast Iowa doesn’t afford the Crusaders the opportunity to play at the higher level of competition.
“That’s not saying anything bad about the schools in our area, but they just aren’t at the levels of these teams we’re playing. We go looking for that during the year in Illinois and other places, but we just don’t see this level of competition.”
Assumption won the Class 1A title last year and is the odds-on favorite to repeat this year. That would make them the second state champions the Crusaders would face this year. They lost to Wheaton Academy 1-9 earlier this year in Quincy. Wheaton won the Class 2A state title in Illinois on Saturday.
The Crusaders finish the year 11-9.