116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
SOLON — It is a combustible mix. Take one of the best goal-scorers in the state of Iowa and pair her with a uniquely big and talented freshman class.
It has worked out so far for Class 2A No. 14 Independence and sophomore Easten Miller, who has 30 goals this season after scoring 21 as a freshman.
“Just being surrounded with people who are constantly playing with a passion for soccer,” Miller said. “Having all the freshmen that are as passionate as me ... is great.”
The Mustangs were just 4-14 last season when Miller was scoring at about the same pace.
But she knew reinforcements were on the way.
“I was really excited,” she said. “I play for FC2, the Cedar Rapids teams. I've seen them, practiced with them. They are really good freshmen.”
Independence Coach Shawn Conaway said he's been coaching some of the freshmen since they were 5 years old. He also was ready for this.
“It is a wonderful group,” Conaway said. “They have put in the work.”
The Mustangs only have two seniors and two juniors on the roster. In a 2-0 loss to 1A No. 11 Solon on Monday night, the Independence starting lineup had eight freshmen, two sophomores and a senior.
Even with the loss to Solon, Independence is 12-2 overall, and 9-2 in the Wamac. The Mustangs won the Wamac West title with a 6-0 division record.
“(The freshmen) have definitely exceeded my expectations,” Miller said. “Of course we thought we could really do good, but we've REALLY been doing good.”
Along with her goal scoring, Miller has 12 assists this year after recording just seven as a freshman.
“Probably one of the things I'm proudest of Easten is she has really taken ownership of leadership,” Conaway said. “She has more assists than last year.
“There is only one switch to her, and that is on, full speed.”
Conaway said it is her high motor that scares teams, and requires them to know where she is at all times.
“She has the tools,” Conaway said. “She's a special player, a special leader.”
And she has found more willing feet to spread the ball around to this season.
“I just go to the goal, and if that's not an option, I have people on the team that I trust,” Miller said. “When teams aren't letting me go to the goal, the other girls are open.
“I look up and they are right there.”
With a sophomore among the state leaders in goals, and a big, talented freshman group, the Mustangs might be thinking about state aspirations in 2023 or 2024.
“It goes by really fast,” Miller said. “We want to win state this year.”
Miller is just a sophomore, and colleges can't reach out to her until June 15. She knows she wants to play at the next level, but doesn't know at what level, yet.
“Wherever she decides to play at the next level is going to get one heck of a player,” Conaway said.
And the Mustangs might just keep growing, too.
“Next year, believe it or not, there are some eighth graders that are going to make this team a little bit better,” Conaway said.