CEDAR RAPIDS — A 2-1 loss to Pella in last year’s Class 2A state semifinals still is fresh in the minds of Cedar Rapids Xavier seniors Andrija Mijatovic and Kristijan Smolcic.
The foreign exchange students from Zagreb, Croatia, are excited for a fresh season of opportunity.
The collective goal of the team is to make it to state for the 15th year in a row.
Mijatovic believes, with many improved players, reaching this goal is possible.
“The freshmen from last year grew in skill, mentally and physically,” Mijatovic said. “There are more freshmen coming up, and I feel like everyone has good passing and foot skills, which will help a lot this year.”
To prepare for the season, which opens next week, the Saints are working on improving their stamina as well as preparing physically. They also will be trying to form a bond between everyone on the team.
“We need to get to know each other so we can work together well on the field,” Mijatovic said.
For the two Croatians, the adjustment to the style of play in America was not an easy one.
“It is a completely different style of play here than it is in Croatia,” Smolcic said. “People do a lot more dribbling here.”
Mijatovic agreed, noting American soccer has quite a few differences from soccer played in Croatia.
“Back home we try to spend less energy on running and more on quick passing around players and long balls into space to spread the opposite team’s defense out,” Mijatovic said. “Then we can find a gap to play into the space of our striker of wingers.”
The confidence is high for the Saints this spring, but starting strong will be essential in maintaining that mentality.
Xavier opens its season with the Kingston Jamboree, March 28 at 4:20 p.m.