It may have taken two overtime frames and a penalty kick round but in the end, the Waukee girls soccer team captured a state tournament finals berth with a 2-1 win over reigning champion Ankeny Centennial.
It marked the first time Waukee has made a state title game since entering the Class 3A ranks and the first time as a program since 2011 when they were within the Class 2A ranks.
Before the match went into game-deciding penalty kicks, the scoring action began with the Warriors as Jori Nieman took a corner kick and delivered a strong header which caught the goalkeeper in the middle of an adjustment and into the back of the net. That marked the 15th goal of the season for the senior and gave the Warriors a 1-0 lead with just over 17 minutes left in the first half.
The contest looked like what most of the regular season and the state quarterfinal round were like in a defensive shutout win for Waukee but Centennial had other plans and they tied it up just five minutes later with a header into the top left-hand corner of the goal for the equalizer. That is how the first half would end thanks to a defensive battle for both teams throughout the remainder of the first half.
That defensive deadlock continued on well through the second half with both teams unable to find much of a chance at the back of the net and as a result, the contest headed into overtime. Even then, the defensive battle ensued well past the initial ten overtime minutes and even continued on into the second overtime. With both teams still tied at 1-1, the contest then went into the decisive penalty kick time.
It was there that heroics took place by a multitude of Warriors including senior goalkeeper Emily LeVere went stride for stride with Centennial keeper Aly Jumper, trading saves. It was LeVere to get the upper hand, swatting away the final two penalty kicks while Izzy Damen, Gatorade Player of the Year nominee, delivered the game-winning kick, a well-deserved honor for the senior as head coach Tony Gabriel spoke about following the win.
“This is very fitting considering what she’s had to fight through,” began Gabriel. “Several years ago when Izzy was an underclassman, she was in this exact position and didn’t make the shot. She felt so bad she was almost too scared to take another penalty kick so to see her break through that and send this team to the title game is a testament to her character and her talents.”
The win gives coach Gabriel his first state win over an Ankeny Centennial led team in seven years and puts them inside the title game after three semi-final appearances in the past four seasons. They will be taking on Ankeny for the Class 3A state crown today beginning at 3 p.m. on field nine.