DES MOINES — On the drive back from dinner Friday night, Chris Higgins unveiled a prediction.
The third-year Cedar Rapids Xavier girls’ soccer coach told sophomore Ella Kluesner she was going to score a goal in Saturday’s state-championship match.
With the title match tied at 1-1 and Xavier in its huddle before the start of overtime, Higgins reinforced his forecast.
“He said it in front of everyone,” Kluesner said after her goal 104 seconds into overtime gave the fifth-ranked Saints a 2-1 victory over No. 2 Waverly-Shell Rock in the Class 2A state final Saturday at Cownie Soccer Park. “He was like, ‘Ella, this is your day. You’re going to shoot. You’re going to make it.’”
The winning play began when Xavier junior Quinn Hanigan fielded a throw-in from senior Abbi Westhoff and dribbled into the middle of the field before passing to Kluesner, who stood 75 feet away from the goal. Even with Kluesner’s admitted prior reluctance to shoot during games, the opportunity to win her team a state title with one shot was too tantalizing to pass up.
“I just saw an opportunity for me to cut back and an opening in the goal,” Kluesner said. “I just went for it.”
The goal was just the third this season for Kluesner. The state title is the 10th all-time for Cedar Rapids Xavier (17-4) and its first since 2013. No school has more girls’ soccer state titles. Davenport Assumption won its 10th state title earlier in the day with a 1-0 victory over North Polk in the 1A final, but Xavier made sure Assumption stood alone for just a couple of hours.
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“This year, I just really thought we were underrated,” said Westhoff, who will play soccer at Division-III St. Mary’s (Minn.) in the fall. “And we did it. I could not have asked for a better team. We always believed in ourselves.”
Westhoff and fellow senior defender Avery Campbell were freshmen on the 2016 Xavier team that saw a streak of 13 years in a row at the state tournament end. Higgins came aboard the following year and after quarterfinal exits in each of his first two seasons, all three are now champions.
“I’ve had these girls for three years and they wanted it,” Higgins said. “They wanted it really, really bad. ... They had a point to prove. Tears were flowing after the game. I am so happy for them.”
After a scoreless halftime, Xavier freshman Mary Kate Moeder scored her 12th goal of the season less than four minutes into the second half when she fielded a corner kick from junior Caitlynn Daniels and chipped it over the goal line before a Waverly-Shell Rock defender booted it away.
With 17:35 left in regulation, Waverly-Shell Rock tied the match when freshman reserve Macy Smith got between Campbell and Xavier goalkeeper Maggie Conrad and flicked the ball into the net.
Despite the goal, Xavier weathered the storm over the final minutes of regulation and turned away the opposing momentum once overtime started.
“When we had that break, we knew this was ours,” said Campbell, who will play soccer at Coe in the fall. “We just went out there and gave it our all.”
Waverly-Shell Rock’s season ends with a record of 17-2. Both of its losses were to Xavier.
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Freshman forward Brielle Bastian, Conrad and sophomore defender Amanda Ross all represented Xavier on the all-tournament team, which was captained by Daniels.
That quartet will headline a group of nine starters that will return next season for the Saints as defending state champions.
“I am so proud of my team,” Campbell said. “We have worked all season for this.”
CLASS 2A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
At Des Moines
No. 5 Cedar Rapids Xavier 2, No. 2 Waverly-Shell Rock 1 (OT)
Goals — CRX: Mary Kate Moeder (12), Ella Kluesner (3); WSR: Macy Smith (7). Assists — CRX: Caitlynn Daniels (15), Quinn Hanigan (8); WSR: Kennedy Rieken (5).
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