KALONA — In past years, whenever Iowa Mennonite was on the cusp of reaching the boys’ state soccer tournament, perennial power Iowa City Regina was often in its way.
Last season, IMS was eliminated in a substate semifinal, 2-1, by a Regina team that went on to win its sixth Class 1A state title in nine seasons.
“I think it helped to see that we could compete,” said Coach Marcus Miller, who leads 1A No. 4 IMS into the opening game of the Southeast Iowa Super Conference tournament Friday against Highland at Iowa Mennonite School. “We have a lot of guys back. We lost some good players from last year, but we have our starting goalie (junior Blake Bontrager) from last year back. He’s done an excellent job. Last year, he kept us in that game in a lot of ways.”
Falling short against the eventual state champions proved to be a powerful motivator for Bontrager and five irreplaceable senior starters in Reggie Borntrager, Gerardo Mendoza, Cole Ours, Mitchell Schmieder and Isaiah Swantz. After defeating just one ranked team during a 9-0 start to this season, IMS opened eyes across the state with consecutive wins over No. 1 Regina (2-1 in overtime) and No. 3 Williamsburg (4-3 on penalty kicks) within a five-day span before the conference tournament.
“Some of the guys felt like there was some unfinished business from that,” Miller said of the Regina rematch. “They really wanted another shot at them. … They look back at that (2017) game and thought they were right there with them.”
The Regina win propelled IMS (11-0) six spots to No. 4 in this week’s Iowa High School Soccer Coaches Association rankings. No school earned more first-place votes (5) than IMS this week, and the Williamsburg win should propel it even higher.
“They play as a unit well,” Williamsburg Coach Ryan Sauser said. “They continue to work as a group and don’t rely on one individual to do it all for them, which helps them out. They’re deceptive with that because they play as a team. Sometimes it’s easier to key on that one or two guys, but they do a nice job of staying together as a group.”
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Ours was a first team all-SEISC selection last season with 19 goals and 12 assists in 17 games. This season, he has posted nine goals and five assists.
“Cole is a quiet kid, a lot of confidence on the ball,” Miller said. “He’s the kind of guy I think a lot of teams overlook. He has a way of getting things in there, provides some good leadership for the team.”
Miller calls Swantz, “the heart and soul of the team” and recalled him nearly being carried off the field after losing to Regina last season. Swantz leads IMS with 12 goals and has also distributed four assists.
“He makes us go in a lot of ways,” Miller said. “Has a lot of passion for the game.”
Junior Louis Etienne has scored eight goals this season, while fellow junior Jacob Boller has added six goals and seven assists.
With a win Friday, IMS will advance to an SEISC semifinal Saturday at Columbus Junction against the winner of Central Lee and Fort Madison Holy Trinity. Win there, and IMS will play for a second-consecutive conference title later that day.
“Last year, we had been winning the games we should have, and not winning some of the close games against the top teams in the conference,” Miller said. “We went to the conference tournament as a four or five seed and managed to win the whole thing. That gave the guys a lot of confidence.”
IMS will not see Regina when substate play begins May 21. It is grouped with second-ranked Solon, No. 13 West Burlington Notre Dame, Central Lee, Danville, Fort Madison Holy Trinity, Highland and Mediapolis. IMS has played — and defeated — each school in the substate field other than Solon this season.
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Should it have the same good fortune against No. 2 that it had against No. 1 and No. 3, it would be a landmark season for IMS boys’ soccer.
“We went (to state) a few times when we still played in the fall and they had a fall state tournament,” Miller said. “We’ve never gone in the spring.”
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