DES MOINES — Chemistry transferred into a dynamic attack for what became a cohesive Waterloo Columbus team that made a run into Tuesday’s Class 1A state soccer final.
Competing in the program’s first championship match since a title season seven years ago, Waterloo Columbus was eventually slowed down by a soccer dynasty. Iowa City Regina secured its third consecutive state championship with a 1-0 shutout victory over the Sailors for its eighth title in 13 state tournament appearances.
This marked just the second time Columbus (20-3) had been held scoreless all season. The Sailors tallied multiple goals in 20 of 23 matches.
“We were making all the connections that we’re used to, and Regina did a good job of tracking our speed down the sidelines,” Columbus coach William Maletta said. “I think we tried to rely too much on the dribbling instead of the passing today.”
These two teams knew each other well. Regina earned a 2-1 win over the Sailors during a regular season match in Iowa City, before Columbus poured four goals on the Regals in miserable weather conditions at the end of a tournament match at Davenport Assumption on April 27.
Regina’s veteran coach Rick Larew said he saw his players grow up and take more accountability for their actions as the season progressed. Five of the Regals’ six losses came to larger schools with Columbus the only 1A program to defeat them.
“We thought they’re a very opportunistic team, very technically talented,” Larew said of Columbus. “Where they score a lot of their key goals is on set pieces, corner kicks and direct kicks. That’s what we’ve been focusing on. You’ve just got to mark every person and you have to stay with that person until the ball is cleared.”
Columbus finished with an 18-16 advantage in shots, and each team generated a handful of quality scoring chances throughout this match.
Joseph Ko connected with Columbus teammate Noah Lumpa on a long ball for a header that missed just over the net in the 30th minute. In the second half, Saw Win Lin found Brayden Zoll for a shot near the back post off a corner kick that was blocked, and Lin later delivered a feed to Daniel Pranger that was headed over the net.
Regina’s only goal came off a controversial call following a counter run by all-tournament team captain Alec Wick in the 72nd minute.
Video footage showed Wick appearing to use his left arm to initiate contact with a Columbus defender to his left side as they approached the box running closely side-by-side. The Regina midfielder then lost his balance just inside the 18. An official behind Wick and to his right made the call that a foul against the Sailors’ defender occurred inside the box on the play, triggering a penalty kick.
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Columbus goalkeeper Aidan Schmitz used a diving save to stop Regina’s Jonah Warren on the initial penalty kick, but Warren pounced on the rebound and scored.
“If that’s what it takes to beat us, I guess I will take pride in that,” Maletta said. “If that’s the only way you can beat us is a loose foul in the box that generates a PK, so be it I guess.”
Columbus produced a pair of opportunities for an equalizer down the stretch. Nga Reh missed wide from 25 yards out with three minutes to play, and a pass from Lin to Daniel Pranger was saved in the final minute.
For Columbus, the loss was a tough pill to swallow after the Sailors secured their first trip to state since 2013. Lone senior starters Reh and defender Michael Pranger joined junior playmaker Lin as Columbus’ representatives on the all-tournament team.
“I don’t have words to describe what Michael and Nga have done for the program,” Maletta said of his senior leaders. “They represent everything that’s great about what we’ve tried to build here the last three years. I hate to lose them. I’ll never be able to replace them no matter what happens.”
Asked what he’ll remember most from this memorable season, Reh responded, “Just playing together, teamwork. The bonding on our team.”
Maletta credited this breakthrough run as the product of a dedicated group that entered the season driven to excel.
“It took all the early-season hours we put in that people don’t see right now,” Maletta said. “It’s the long early-morning practices where all we’re doing is running for two, three hours straight. Then they do it again in the afternoon.
“It’s the work that these guys put in together as a group early in the season. They forced each other to run harder and harder every single practice.”