NORTH LIBERTY — Sometimes, speed has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.
Fort Madison boys soccer coach Kevin Wellman had checked out plenty of video on Iowa City Liberty, and had scouted the Lightning in person.
Then came Wednesday’s Class 3A Substate 4 final, and what the Bloodhounds got from the Lightning was a lesson in quickness.
Liberty struck for two goals in the first 7 1/2 minutes, staggering the Bloodhounds in a 10-0 win that sent the Lightning to next week’s state tournament.
Hayden Saul and Cooper Saul each had three goals and Flori Gembo Motshalindo had two for Liberty (9-8).
“They were better soccer players than we were,” Fort Madison coach Kevin Wellman said. “Better soccer players.”
The Lightning struck quickly, with three shots on goal in the first 3 1/2 minutes, a stunning fury that set the tone for the rest of the match.
“We were surprised,” Wellman said. “We knew (Motshalindo) was very fast, we knew (Roman Riggs, who had a first-half goal) was very skilled, very good playmaker. We didn’t know all of them were as fast as they were.
“You can’t see that on film. We came up to watch them play Dubuque Senior, and I don’t know if we sat too far up on the bleachers and didn’t notice. But yeah, we were all surprised.”
Cooper Saul opened the scoring with a shot from the middle seven minutes into the match, then Hayden Saul punched in a goal 40 seconds later for a 2-0 lead.
Cooper Saul added a second goal at the 13:54 mark, then Riggs scored with 5:44 left and Motshalindo scored with 3:52 left.
That lead seemed insurmountable, and the Lightning kept the offense going in the second half.
Cooper Saul’s third goal came 5 1/2 minutes into the second half, then Forrest Saul and Hayden Saul scored within 20 seconds of each other to push the lead to 8-0. Motshalindo added his second goal with 29:11 to play, then Hayden Saul ended the match with 3:07 to play with his final goal.
Fort Madison, which claimed its third consecutive Southeast Conference championship, ended its season with a 15-4 record, falling in the substate final for the third consecutive time.
“I don’t know if you heard me after the game, but I told these kids that I wouldn’t trade any of their guys for any of our guys,” Wellman said, his voice cracking with the emotion of the defeat. “I take away a lot of good things from this season. We had a lot of wins, finishing 15-4. We went through some games that were tough that we didn’t go away from, games when we were down and responded.
“It’s a testament to the character of these guys, which is why I would never trade them. There is high quality character in every one of them.”
Fort Madison loses five seniors, including Xander Wellman, who had 30 goals and 16 assists this season coming off a knee injury near the end of last season, and Jacob Pothitakis, who recovered from a severe leg injury last season to have a 7-goal, 15-assist year.
“This was a great group of seniors, but they’re always a great group,” Kevin Wellman said.
Then he smiled.
“I really love coaching at Fort Madison,” Wellman said.
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