116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — The first inkling came on May 6. The Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union’s girls’ soccer rankings that day had Waverly-Shell Rock No. 1 and Cedar Rapids Xavier No. 8 in Class 2A.
Considering the girls’ state soccer tournament is seeded by the IGHSAU’s rankings, that 1-vs.-8 pairing was an intriguing possibility. Surely in the next month, though, something would change.
The final rankings came along on May 26. Waverly-Shell Rock, the 2019 2A runner-up, still No. 1. Cedar Rapids Xavier, the most-recent 2A champion, still No. 8.
OK, but there at least would be an upset in the regional finals, right? Some lower-ranked team will put these perennial powers on the opposite side of the bracket.
Not this year. The top-eight teams all advanced. As such, it’s a state championship rematch in Tuesday’s girls’ state soccer quarterfinals, the Saints (13-5) and the Go-Hawks (16-2) kicking off at Cownie Soccer Park at 12:30 p.m.
“It’s a tough first game,” Xavier Coach Chris Higgins said. “I don’t think we’re that far apart, a 1-seed and an 8-seed.”
Look no further than the teams’ regular-season meeting on, of course, May 6. No. 1 Waverly-Shell Rock prevailed, 2-1, at No. 8 Xavier with an overtime golden goal from University of Iowa signee Kenzie Roling.
Xavier, the top-ranked team in the season’s first rankings, had slipped with a 3-2 loss to North Scott in April.
“I think we’re traditionally slow starters,” Higgins said. “It always takes us a few games to get going.”
The Saints’ other losses were to ranked 3A teams, 2-0 in the season opener to West Des Moines Dowling and 1-0 defeats later in May to Iowa City West and Linn-Mar.
That’s not the resume of a typical No. 8 team, but the Saints have stayed behind No. 6 North Scott (13-5) in the rankings since that defeat. No. 7 Dallas Center-Grimes (13-5), by the way, also gave the Go-Hawks a game, losing 3-2 on three second-half goals, including two from Roling, on May 1.
This has all the makings of a wide-open 2A tournament.
“Since we’ve played Waverly, we’ve had really tough games,” Higgins said. “Close game against Linn-Mar, close game against Iowa City West. Even though they’re losses, I like playing those tough games so we’re prepared and we’re in those situations of knowing what to do when we’re in a tough game.
“Even though we’ve got those losses, which probably hurt us in the rankings, when it comes to state we’re in a good spot because we’ve played those hard contests.”
Xavier won the 2019 title, 2-1, on an overtime goal from then-sophomore Ella Kluesner. Roling scored 38 goals as a sophomore that season, but was kept off the board in the final, the second straight year WSR finished second.
This year, Roling has a state-record 68 goals and the Go-Hawks are carrying a 15-game winning streak to state. They’re similarly tested, with losses to 3A qualifiers No. 5 Ankeny Centennial (3-2) and No. 1 West Des Moines Valley (4-0).
“It’s just unfortunate we’re playing them in the first game,” Higgins said, “but I think we would have had to play somewhere along the line if we were to go far again.”