(KMAland) -- The KMA Sports 2018-19 Top 25 Team countdown moves to the soccer pitch for the first time as we move to the No. 7 team of the year.
Lewis Central boy’s soccer had plenty of high expectations coming into the season. Not only did they return the reigning KMAland Soccer Player of the Year in Cole Jensen, but there were several other key contributors back from a team that finished one game shy of the Class 3A state tournament.
Another part of those high expectations: A move down to Class 2A. However, things didn’t necessarily start how they envisioned, losing a 4-0 decision to Harlan in the opening game of the season.
Coach James Driver’s team quickly shook off the defeat and won their next four games - all in shutout fashion. One of those wins came against city rival Abraham Lincoln, which got a measure of payback on April 25th in taking a 3-2 win over the Titans.
Three more shutout wins - over Scotus, St. Albert and Grinnell followed - came before a 2-1 loss to Bondurant-Farrar. At that point in the season, the Titans had three losses in their first 10. They would have zero the rest of the way.
During a seven-match win streak to close the regular season, LC outscored opponents 38-0 and clinched a share of the Hawkeye Ten championship. Ahead of their substate opener with Carroll, KMA Sports talked with Coach Driver about this team’s goals for the postseason.
"We always have short term goals throughout the season," he said. "That starts with a city championship, a conference championship, and then more importantly the ultimate goal is trying to make the state tournament. I feel like we have a pretty good shot.”
Jensen posted another shutout in the postseason opener as the Titans rolled to an 8-0 win over the Tigers. Jacob Lin recorded a hat trick and Paul Devine and Luis Espino scored twice each in the win.
The next round proved to be one of their toughest tests of the entire postseason. The Titans, though, prevailed again with a 1-0 win over a strong Perry team to advance to a substate championship. The lone goal of the game came from Devine.
In the substate final, a chance to avenge their season-opening loss to Harlan. This time it was 4-0 the other way. Espino scored twice, Lin and Adam Mortensen scored once each and the Titans were on to state for the first time in 22 years.
"I think we can hang and compete with anybody in the state,” Coach Driver told KMA Sports after the win. “If we come prepared, ready to rock-and-roll and play team ball, then we can compete with anybody in the state of Iowa."
Up first for the 17-3 and third-seeded Titans was a matchup with third-ranked and sixth-seeded Storm Lake, which entered at 16-1.
“We want to make some noise,” Driver said. “We’re definitely not satisfied with just making it. We’re going to take one game at a time, but the goal is to bring home the championship.”
The Titans and Tornadoes went back and forth throughout an incredible state quarterfinal that wouldn’t be decided until a penalty kick shootout. Again, Jensen came up big for LC in clinching the win.
"I had a lot confidence in our shooters and myself," Jensen said, "I kind of second guessed myself on the first two, but I didn't second guess myself (on the last two) and I just went for it."
In the semifinals, Lewis Central posted another 1-0 shutout win over Hudson, getting their 18th shutout of the season and 12th straight win. Espino was again the lone goal scorer in the win.
After three days off due to extreme heat, the Titans met top-ranked and top-seeded Cedar Rapids Xavier in the championship. Again, it was a 1-0 win, clinched on a goal by Lin with 17:25 remaining in the first half.
“I think it bounced around in there a little bit and it just sat in front of me,” Lin said in a post game interview with KMA Sports. “I just tried to get my foot on it and place it. I hit it as hard as I could and did what I could do.”
Other reactions to the state championship:
“This is surreal,” Driver told KMA Sports. “We came back on Saturday after we won in the semifinals and we were joking around with the boys about how it just felt like another game. We came back up for this championship and I told the guys I wanted them to stay calm. We came out, played our game, took care of what we could control and were successful.”
“This is what we battled for all season long,” Jensen said. “This is what we went to practice every day thinking about. It was a long process. We were able to take it step by step and eventually get what we deserved and wanted. I feel great and I know everyone else feels just as good.”
The win clinched a 19th shutout, 13th straight win and the first boy’s state soccer championship in school history. Jensen was honored as the KMAland Boys Soccer Player of the Year for the second consecutive year while Brandon Cline, Devine and Espino joined him on the All-KMAland Boys Soccer XI.
Listen to KMA Sports’ coverage of the LC boy’s soccer team below.
Top 25 Teams of 2018-19
7. Lewis Central Boys Soccer
6: Friday, August 9th
5: Monday, August 12th
4: Tuesday, August 13th
3: Wednesday, August 14th
2: Thursday, August 15th
1: Friday, August 16th