VINTON — It began with a few scored goals.
While not enough to halt what would become a 48-game losing streak for the Vinton-Shellsburg boys’ soccer team, scoring three times in a two-game span last season served as a confidence boost for 2018.
“After losses, we kept getting more down and down,” said Vinton-Shellsburg junior defender Cole Neilson, who will help the Vikings play a Class 1A boys’ soccer substate quarterfinal game against Anamosa Monday night at 6:30 at Vinton-Shellsburg High School. “We kept getting down more often and then the more we kept playing together, we started scoring goals late last year. That brought us up. It brought our confidence up and it is kind of running into this year, too.”
The addition of nine freshmen this season to a squad that lost just one senior not only increased the roster size, it greatly enhanced the talent level. Out of 23 players on the current roster, 13 are freshmen or sophomores and all but one (senior Noah Hedinger) of the rest are juniors.
“Essentially, we were combining two teams into one with the existing team and the new team coming in,” third-year Vinton-Shellsburg Coach Kyle McAbee said. “It did take a little while for the chemistry to be there. They’ve been playing fantastic the last half of the season.”
After three-consecutive winless campaigns, Vinton-Shellsburg began this season with a narrow 2-1 loss to Western Dubuque. Four days later, the Vikings won their first game in nearly four years and scored multiple goals in a game for just the 10th time in the seven-year history of the program during a 4-1 victory at Mount Vernon.
It was the first victory as head coach for McAbee, who played on the inaugural 2012 team and was an assistant from 2013-15.
“He has told us that we have the team that has the most potential overall,” said freshman David Lapan-Islas, who is tied for the team lead with seven goals and is first with four assists. “I think that helped boost our confidence a little bit. After our first win, that just helped probably the most.”
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Much of the roster grew up playing together within their respective age groups for Cal and Megan Rickels through the American Youth Soccer Organization. Lapan-Islas and freshman defender Damon Swenson also brought club soccer experience to the team from the Cedar River Soccer Association.
Following the landmark victory, Vinton-Shellsburg endured a four-game losing skid that included games against highly-ranked opponents in 2A No. 2 Marion, 1A No. 9 Benton Community and 1A No. 4 Williamsburg. Unlike so many contests against ranked foes in seasons past, there were no 10-0 mercy rule enforcements needed.
“It felt really nice to finally get some good chemistry and get everyone together and get them working well,” Neilson said. “It was the first year that the defense and offense really clicked together and worked together. It’s been amazing.”
Shutout victories over South Tama, Clear Creek Amana and Cedar Valley Christian/Alburnett gave the Vikings a 4-5 mark that equaled the school record for wins in a season. If they were to set a new victory standard and get their record to .500, they would have to tussle with 1A No. 2 Solon.
“They were really looking forward to playing against Solon,” McAbee said.
Last year at Solon, Vinton-Shellsburg lost, 9-0. This time, the Vikings received two goals from Lapan-Islas, led from start to finish and prevailed, 3-1, on May 11.
“It meant the world to the guys,” said Neilson, who has fortified the Vinton-Shellsburg back line along with Swenson. “We’ve been working very hard to get to this spot and then to beat the No. 2 team, it was almost unreal. It was like we were in a dream. It was amazing.”
On Tuesday, freshman CJ Rickels scored three goals as Vinton-Shellsburg tacked on another win over West Delaware and finished the regular season at an even 6-6. The Vikings could win a postseason game for the first time Monday against Anamosa (2-12).
“I know the boys really, really want it bad,” McAbee said. “Getting a win in the first round is the first step to getting to the second round. We’ve just got to take it game by game and not overlook anybody.”
Substate quarterfinal schedule
(Area teams only)
Monday, May 20
Byes — Iowa City Regina, Williamsburg
Monticello vs. Postville at Dyersville, 5
Cedar Valley Christian/Alburnett at Dyerville Beckman, 7
Anamosa at Vinton-Shellsburg, 6:30
Bellevue Marquette at West Liberty, 6:30
Highland at Solon, 7
Mediapolis at Iowa Mennonite, 7
Centerville vs. Benton Community at Kalona, 5
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Byes — Cedar Rapids Xavier, Center Point-Urbana, Decorah, Marion
Charles City at Independence, 7
West Delaware vs. Waverly-Shell Rock at Independence, 5
Mount Vernon vs. Iowa City Liberty at Solon, 5
Maquoketa at DeWitt Central, 5
Fort Madison at Clear Creek Amana, 7
Keokuk vs. Washington (Iowa) at Tiffin, 5
South Tama at Mid-Prairie, 6:30
Byes — Cedar Rapids Prairie, Cedar Rapids Washington, Iowa City High, Iowa City West
Mason City vs. Cedar Rapids Jefferson at Waterloo, 5
Dubuque Hempstead vs. Western Dubuque at Kingston Stadium, 5
Dubuque Senior vs. Cedar Rapids Kennedy at Kingston Stadium, 7
Linn-Mar vs. North Scott at Muscatine, 5
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