DES MOINES — An unlikely hero emerged in a moment of need for Council Bluffs Lewis Central during Saturday’s Class 2A state girls’ soccer championship against Union Community.
Members of the defending state champion Titans briefly looked around at each other after a controversial foul in the box produced a penalty kick opportunity in the 60th minute. The team’s usual PK shooter, Nebraska Wesleyan recruit Suzie McDonald, was taking a break on the bench, so sophomore reserve Mikayla McCart rose to the occasion.
McCart guessed correctly as her go-ahead kick allowed Lewis Central to repeat as state champion with a 2-1 win over Union. The sophomore reserve certainly was a surprising option for a Lewis Central team that had a pair of prolific goal-scorers on the field at the time in Iowa State recruit Kelsey McSorley (35 goals) and Grace Guidry (21 goals).
“Mikayla, she wanted to take it,” Lewis Central coach Chris Von Mende said. “That’s always a good thing when you hear a player say, ‘I want this.’ I said, ‘Go ahead and take it then.’ ... It was nice Mikayla was calm and composed and put it in.”
This marked another heartbreaking loss for a Union program playing its third state final — the first since 2011. With a strong wind at their back, the Knights struck first when Emma Rottinghaus elevated a shot over Lewis Central goalkeeper Madison Parks from 30 yards out in the 15th minute.
Lewis Central quickly responded in the 17th minute as McDonald blocked a clearing pass at the top of the 18-yard box and buried her shot for an equalizer.
Union (18-3) threatened off multiple set pieces throughout the remainder of the match with Rottinghaus drilling the crossbar late in the first half and a couple corner kick opportunities barely slipping away.
Each team’s defense limited opportunities during the second half. Union’s Jasmyn Bush made 11 saves to support a back row that included all-tournament team selection Lauren Phillips and strong play from Tori Hadachek on the outside defending McSorley.
After seeing his team get stretched out too often man-marking in the first 20 minutes, Union coach Hunter Zempel had the group adjust back to their normal defense.
“We switched it up mid-match and I thought the girls did a great job back there,” Zempel said. “Second half we were much better. We hardly gave up any shots that were on target.
“I went into this tournament saying that Jasmyn was one of the best goalies in the state, and she’s only a freshman. I look forward to three more years of her. She’s so confident, so natural out there. Anytime the ball is to her I have complete confidence in her.”
The manner in which Lewis Central was able to generate the go-ahead penalty kick in the second half certainly stung.
Video replay confirmed Union’s defender was the first to make contact with the ball as she raced away from the goal to clear alongside Lewis Central’s Guidry just inside the top left corner of the goal box. When the two players collided, Union was whistled for the costly penalty.
“I thought we played a fantastic game for all 80 minutes,” Zempel said. “It was an even contest throughout.
“I don’t want to talk too much about the penalty. It wasn’t a penalty in my opinion. It is what it is. Overall, I’m just proud with how we battled out there. We went through stiff competition to get here in Waverly and North Scott, two programs I respect a lot. ... Lewis Central you have to give credit to them. they played a fair game, back-to-back champions, so you know it’s a solid program.”
This loss capped the standout career of Union’s Courtney Powell. She threatened multiple times, but was often closely contested with up to three defenders working to limit her space. The all-tournament team captain, Powell finishes her senior season with a state-record 80 goals.
“She’s been absolutely fantastic, one of the best players to ever come through Iowa,” Zempel said. “I wish her all the best at Iowa State. I know she’ll do great down there — a real team leader so we’ll miss that next year.”
This match marked the first time all season Powell had been held scoreless.
“I saw some of that so it freaked me out. It was unbelievable,” said Lewis Central’s Von Mende, who witnessed Powell’s two goals at the end of Union’s semifinal victory over North Scott. “We just tried to make sure that we couldn’t give her anything real clean. If we she got by one of our players, we had a second there and sometimes a third because we know how good she is.”
Zempel hopes this breakthrough season will spark Union’s program going forward.
“We’re a small community so we need Traer, Dysart, La Porte, we need everybody to jump on board,” Zempel said. “All those young kids need to keep moving up and hopefully we can keep doing that. When you have these good teams, hopefully that gets them energized to compete.”
In addition to Powell and Phillips, Union’s Rottinghaus was named to the all-tournament team.