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Battle-tested Prairie boys’ soccer team has deep postseason run in mind: ‘It’s our time now’
No. 5-ranked Hawks coming off program’s first state semifinal appearance
CEDAR RAPIDS — Prairie boys’ soccer Coach Curt Lewis has high expectations — for this year’s team, the program and his son, Gavin.
Gavin knows it. And he’s on the same page.
“He's been coaching me all the way through, so I’m used to his expectations and everything,” Gavin Lewis said. “It's good to know what your coach wants out of you and then be able to translate it on to the field.
“We just want to keep making history.”
Lewis, a junior, is the leading goal scorer for the Class 4A No. 5-ranked Hawks (13-2).
“Gavin is a fantastic leader,” Curt Lewis said. “He's super smart. He's like another coach on the field. He's that cliché ‘coach’s son’ because he watches a ton of video by himself, and then we watch it together.”
The 2023 Hawks are an experienced, battle-tested team coming off a trip to the state semifinals last season — the program’s deepest postseason run to date.
“We've been in the grind the last few years,” Curt Lewis said. “We have kind of a protocol that we go through as we prepare for each section of our season.”
This year, part of the “grind” was a stretch in which the Hawks played the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in 4A on back-to-back days at the West Des Moines Valley Invitational.
Both matches ended 1-0, accounting for the only Prairie losses this season.
“Friday night (April 14) we played (No. 1 West Des Moines) Valley,” Curt Lewis said. “I thought for a majority of the game we were kind of the better team.
“Then, we had a little defensive breakdown late in the second half and gave up a goal. We did a great job defensively, we just didn't convert on some shots we had in the flow of the game.”
The next day, Prairie was scheduled to play No. 2 West Des Moines Dowling. Inclement weather carried on throughout the day.
“We were the last game of Valley’s Invite, so Linn-Mar and Ames were playing before us and they got put into, I believe, it was three lightning delays,” Curt Lewis said. “So, our game kicked off two hours later. We didn't know if we were going to play the game.
“We decided if there was lighting, they were just going to cancel. We already worked on a rescheduled date, because it was important for both of us to play each other. It didn't lightning, it just poured rain for 70 straight minutes. So, we played in a monsoon game.”
Prairie, again, had its chances, but couldn’t push a goal through and fell to Dowling as the Maroons converted on a penalty kick with five minutes remaining.
“At the end of day, I think it's just that we realized we can compete with any team in the state,” Gavin Lewis said. “They were both 1-0 games all the way down to the last whistle. I mean, every game was close.”
Three days after playing Dowling, Prairie was on the road again at Linn-Mar. It was a scoreless battle that went to penalty kicks, but this time the Hawks prevailed.
“I think every season kind of has a defining moment,” Curt Lewis said. “That was a tough three-game road stretch of Valley, Dowling, Linn-Mar. We had two tough losses out there this year, and then came to Linn-Mar and ended up having to win in a penalty kick shootout.
“If we lose that game, that's three games in a row that we would have lost. But we were able to convert our penalties.”
Riding a 10-game winning streak and seeking their third straight state tournament appearance, the Hawks begin postseason play at home Monday against Dubuque Hempstead (8-9).
“I don't want to say it's an expectation, but I think that if we can get to a state final, and we finally got to a semifinal last year, we've probably been one of the more consistent programs besides Iowa City West in the MVC here of late,” Curt Lewis said.
As the top seed in its substate bracket, Prairie will have the advantage of playing at John Wall Field every match leading up to the state tournament. It’s an advantage the Hawks hope can lift them past No. 9 Pleasant Valley (12-2), should the matchup present itself in the substate final.
The Spartans have spoiled the last two seasons for Prairie.
Pleasant Valley defeated the Hawks in the state quarterfinals in 2021 and did the same in the semifinal round last year.
“You look at the storylines, I mean, obviously, PV has beaten us the last two years at the state tournament and is a two-time defending state champ,” Curt Lewis said. “So, either they're going to go to state potentially for a third time in a row and three-peat, or we have a potential to not allow that and for us to get back to state for the third year in a row.”
“The biggest thing for us is if we do get PV, it's just the mental side of it of them ending our season in back-to-back years and going on to be state champs,” Gavin Lewis said. “We talked about it as a junior and senior class, we don't want them to have the glory of going up on us three times and having potentially back-to-back-to-back state championships.
“It's our time now. We need to take care of business on our home field, like we have all season.”