116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — As the girls’ soccer teams of Linn-Mar and Cedar Falls ran to their benches following the final whistle Thursday night at Linn-Mar Stadium, cheers erupted from both sides.
No. 12-ranked Cedar Falls had just taken the Mississippi Valley Conference’s best team to overtime, a year after losing 6-0. No. 6-ranked Linn-Mar got a game-winning goal less than two minutes into the extra session from freshman Abi Roberts on a night when the starting lineup was heavily rotated.
Either side could have been dissatisfied. Instead, both focused on their reasons to celebrate and move forward.
“I think it was good for us,” Linn-Mar senior center back Katie Callahan said. “We kind of needed to step back and see what chances we could make and we figured it out.”
The Lions were playing their fourth ranked opponent in six days. They emerged with four wins and a still-unblemished 10-0 record.
And all 20 players on the roster contributed.
“It just showed how deep our bench is and how strong our team can be no matter who’s playing out there, no matter who coach trusts out there,” said Linn-Mar senior midfielder Lauren Spaete, a signee to Division-I Saint Louis. “He trusts everyone.”
Last Saturday featured a 1-0 win over then-No. 6 Pleasant Valley that ended up vaulting the Lions up five spots in the rankings. Monday, Callahan scored a second-half game-winner to beat 1A No. 1 Davenport Assumption, 1-0. Tuesday at then-No. 13 Iowa City High was unlike the others, but still a W — 5-3 in favor of the Lions, with Sofia Bush netting a hat trick.
“Lots of us were very, very tired,” said Callahan, a Loras commit.
“We’re really good at just sticking together. As soon as the game gets close, we rally.”
» Photo gallery: Linn-Mar at Iowa City High girls’ soccer
Thursday, only a few typical starters played a first half that Linn-Mar still controlled. It dominated the second half with more regulars on the field, but needed an extra 1:39 of game time to sneak a shot past the Tigers (8-2) and standout goalkeeper Alena Litzel.
“Several players stepped up,” Linn-Mar Coach Marco De Leon said. “They stayed positive, cheering on each other. It’s those things that you like to see, especially because we hadn’t been in this situation before. It’s really nice to see how they responded.”
Watching this unfold, it’s easy to see why the program has staying power, even after losing six starters (and multiple Division I recruits) and returning just three seniors from last year’s team that went 16-3.
That 2021 group was disappointed in the final result, a regional final loss at home to Muscatine. This team is ready to try again, with four freshmen and eight sophomores ready for their opportunities — and knowing they’ll get them.
“I love this team,” Spaete said. “They’re gonna be so good again next year, it’s a very young team. You can hear them, they’re just a great group of girls, really fun.
“I feel like we have a team full of captains. We have 20 girls on the team, 20 girls play and everyone out there leads in their own way.”