INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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Iowa City Regina Coach Rick Larew was front and center, pacing in the rain last Saturday, eager to get his team on the field for the Class 1A boys’ state soccer championship.
The Regals prepared for the three-games-in-three-days scenario by developing depth and fitness throughout the season.
“We really felt well-prepared for (Saturday); we wanted to play (Saturday),” Larew said. “But we’re not going to change our approach. Our game plan is the same.”
Iowa City West was in much the same situation. The Trojans are known for their depth and, despite a spate of late-season injuries, they were prepared to take on No. 1 Johnston and hope their depth would help make the difference.
The weather had other ideas as a deluge hit Cownie Soccer Park on Saturday and, at first, delayed the start of games and eventually washed them out. The Iowa High School Athletic Association moved the finals and consolations to Tuesday.
“We’re OK,” Mid-Prairie Coach Pat Cady said Saturday. “I know a couple coaches had some concerns because they had kids taking off on some trips that were already scheduled. Some of the 2A schools were voicing concerns they’d have players missing.
“We have two foreign exchange students this year who are with us. Fortunately for us they don’t leave until (Wednesday), so we’ll still have them. They’re a big part of our substitutions in the game, so that’s a factor, too.”
One of Regina’s players was set to go on a school trip to Guatemala this week and he chose to give that up. Larew, who is a physician, had to reschedule patients.
“With the coach and the parents. it’s a little trickier,” Larew said.
West’s players and coaches were in the bus headed to Des Moines thinking their game would just be delayed when they got the call to turn back.
“I think the guys were ready to play,” West Coach Brad Stiles said. “They all seemed mentally alert and ready to play. We got to Williamsburg, and then we got the call of the postponement. “It didn’t even dawn on me but two minutes later I had three guys say, ‘Oh wait.’”
Family vacations and other conflicts reared their heads. One family postponed a trip to Hawaii. Another pushed back a trip to Colorado and a third was rearranging a flight to leave from Des Moines on Tuesday night.
“The other thing we ran into was college orientation,” Stiles said. “Guys are like ‘What am I supposed to do? I’ve got to get my classes.’ Actually we were pretty productive getting things done on the way home from Williamsburg.”
Stiles said the extra couple days might help a couple players recover from injuries. Active forward Ryan O’Deen has been hobbled with a pulled muscle in the leg, and midfielder Ben Troester was banged up in the quarterfinal.
Regina, like West, has developed a protocol for tournament week so Larew talked to his team about the change.
“This is a little bit different,” Larew said. “We’ve never had a state tournament like this before and it’s going to require a little bit more of the kids retaining focus.”
(The Gazette’s Jeremiah Davis contributed to this story)