CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Prairie boys’ soccer team did not let a sour end spoil a special season.
While an undefeated record and No. 1 ranking did little to prevent a state-quarterfinal loss to eventual 2017 state champion Iowa City West, the Hawks took solace in one big, bright silver lining.
Nearly every player would be back to go after it again in 2018.
“Our goal really this year right now is to get back to the state tournament,” Prairie senior forward Matt Walter said. “Doesn’t matter how good we do in the regular season. We just want to get back to the state tournament. And we really want to get to that Friday (semifinal) and Saturday (championship) game. We want to get to that state title game. We want to get that banner up in our high school.”
Walter will be a big piece of any Prairie success story this season. A Class 3A first team all-state selection last season and two-time member of the all-MVC first team, Walter led the Hawks with 16 goals and added four assists. A multisport athlete that plays club soccer for Vision Soccer Academy in Waukee, Walter focused his offseason soccer training on trusting his touch on the ball and enhancing his soccer IQ.
“My touch has gotten a little better,” Walter said. “I wouldn’t say I focused too much on my shot because shooting is not all about having good shots. It’s about placing the ball. I really just focused on reading the game as I play.”
Prairie also returns a pair of second team all-state honorees in sophomore midfielder Mateus Lewis (10 goals, eight assists) and senior defender Boston Riley (seven goals, three assists). Lewis, Riley and Walter were each named captains of a squad that will have 88 percent of the goals scored (52) back from last season, plus 85 percent of the assists (40).
“We’re experienced this year,” Prairie Coach Curt Lewis said. “We’ve obviously got a lot of guys back that have played for us since their freshman year. I would expect that we’re going to be competitive.”
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Riley and Walter will join Prairie alum and former Cedar Rapids Rampage United forward Logan Rinderknecht at Division-III Wisconsin-Platteville next season.
Junior midfielder Caleb Halleran also returns after a season in which he led the Hawks with 13 assists and chipped in six goals.
Last season, Prairie shut out 13 opponents in 20 games with a two-man goalkeeper rotation. The graduation loss of Max Smith-Drahos means senior Chase Harrison will man the goal full time for the Hawks. Harrison posted seven shutouts and surrendered just four goals – two in the state quarterfinal loss – in 10 starts last season.
“We’ve got a little bit of depth at goalkeeper, but it’s going to be Chase,” Curt Lewis said. “Unless he’s hurt, he’s going to get every minute this year.”
Prairie opens the season Saturday at Ames for an invitational that includes Boone and Des Moines Lincoln. The Hawks host Linn-Mar April 5 in the start of what should be another rugged Mississippi Valley Conference slate that includes defending state champion Iowa City West, plus standout squads from Kennedy, Washington, Xavier, Iowa City High and Waterloo West.
“Staying focused for the ultimate goal,” Riley said. “Not putting our heads down and keeping them up. Just going through it working our hardest. We’ve been working really hard this offseason and if we just continue to push ourselves, it will be smooth sailing.”
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