DES MOINES — Courtney Powell’s shadow rarely has a chance to touch the grass during the course of a soccer match. Often man-marked and boxed-in, the state’s most prolific goal-scorer grinds away until she eventually finds the slightest crack of daylight to exploit.
One day removed from setting a single-game state tournament record with six goals, Powell may have one-upped herself during Friday’s semifinal against North Scott. With her senior season on the line, Union’s forward scored three times in the final 11 minutes — including twice in the last two minutes — to help the Knights overcome a two-goal deficit and reach the state finals, 4-3.
“I don’t give up, that’s something I’ll never do,” said Powell, who from a young age embraced competition against older and more physical girls at the club level. “Work hard, put in the extra work, and I think that’s what got me here and that’s what got us that win.”
Union (18-2) advanced to Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. championship match against top-ranked Lewis Central (18-3).
North Scott (13-7) controlled possession and consistently won battles in the midfield throughout the majority of Friday’s contest with a team that showed no glaring weakness. The Lancers scored twice on passes from UNI women’s basketball recruit Karli Rucker to her younger sister, Rylie, and Savannah Bogner headed in a corner kick as Union trailed 3-1 in the 58th minute.
With no margin for error, Union coach Hunter Zempel’s message to his team was to take care to the small details, don’t give up and still believe.
“Against these great teams we’re not going to keep the ball as much as other teams do,” Zempel said. “We counter and attack with speed with the best of them and that’s what happened.
“That’s got to be an all-time comeback right there. I have all the respect for North Scott and what they do. They’re a tremendous program. To do it against them just really gives our program a lift and makes us all incredibly proud.”
A pair of through balls from Emma Rottinghaus, who scored Union’s first goal on a free kick from 30 yards out, found Powell, who had shots saved in the 65th and 68th minute by North Scott’s first team all-conference keeper Heather Hoeger.
Finally, in the 69th minute, Powell worked her magic.
Teammate Marika Kopriva advanced the ball from midfield and Powell slipped past a pair defenders before threading a 20-yard shot inside the right post. Powell tied the score in the 78th minute off a Rottinghaus corner kick, and one minute later converted a pass from freshman Lexi Wagner into the game-winner.
“Perfect pass by Lexi,” Powell said. “Being a freshman, this is new to her, and I’m so proud of the younger freshmen and the whole team. That pass was perfect and I just saw the touch to the left and the open goal on the right.
“This is just awesome. I just can’t believe it. We’re all from different clubs, different teams, coming together and we’re playing so well with each other. I’m just so proud of them.”
A youthful team, aside from Powell, Union persevered.
“We worked on touches, going to the ball, all the small things that build up this team,” Rottinghaus said. “Honestly, everything we did today was small details to us.”
This marks the third trip to the state finals and first since 2011 for the merged program of Union and North Tama.
“To be back at the finals level again, hopefully we can come out on top and bring a trophy home to both Union and North Tama communities,” Zempel said. “After this comeback, I think everybody knows we’re not going to give up until that last second hits.”