The rivarly game between the Ankeny and Ankeny Centennial boys’ soccer teams has always been an emotional one.
This year’s showdown features another layer of intrigue.
Centennial coach Brian Duax will be facing his former players for the first time when the two teams collide on Tuesday at Ankeny at 7:30 p.m.
“Controlling emotions (will be the key),” said Duax. “It’s just another game. It’s just another opponent. We all have ties to each other, and we all used to be one school. It’s just a matter of playing your game and letting the chips fall where they may.”
The winner of Tuesday’s game will take a 3-2 lead in the all-time series. Duax guided the Hawks to wins in each of the last two years before leaving to take over the Centennial program.
The Jaguars are ranked third in Class 3A with a 9-2 record, while No. 7 Ankeny is off to an 8-2 start under first-year coach Jordan Burns. Both teams are 1-1 in the CIML Central Conference, which means the loser of Tuesday’s contest will likely fall out of contention for the league title.
“Going against Ankeny will be a big test for us,” said Centennial senior Alex Keninger. “Like one would expect, there’s a lot of emotions and rivalry between the two schools, especially with Duax’s transfer this year. The challenge for us is to just treat it like another game and not let other factors distract us from playing our best.”
The Hawks will be looking to bounce back from Friday’s 1-0 loss to Southeast Polk. The Rams ended Ankeny’s eight-game winning streak.
“I think we learned that on any given night any team will come out and beat you if you’re not ready to go, but now we also must learn to have a short memory about that game,” said Ankeny senior Spencer Anderson. “We have to build on what we did well and carry it into (Tuesday).”
Junior Charlie Pritchard has scored 11 goals to lead Ankeny. He had seven goals in the previous four games before the Hawks were stymied by Southeast Polk.
“The keys for us will be keeping the ball, limiting our mental errors and taking quality shots on goal,” Anderson said.
According to Burns, it will also be important for the Hawks to keep their emotions in check.
“Ankeny vs Ankeny Centennial is already a huge motivator for any athlete in this city no matter what sport it is,” he said. “The players from both high school soccer programs know each other really well as they are all teammates at club soccer. Furthermore, I’m sure my players will want to win even more after the recent coaching transition. It wouldn’t be normal if this was not the case.
“The key things for my team are to first and foremost play our game and secondly don’t let the emotion of the game get the better of us,” he added.
Centennial, meanwhile, opened the season with eight consecutive victories before suffering back-to-back losses to No. 1 Valley and No. 2 Bettendorf. Junior Will Overberg has racked up seven goals and five assists for the Jaguars, who rebounded on Saturday by defeating No. 6 Iowa City High, 3-2, in a shootout at Iowa City.
Keninger had a pair of goals in the win.
“All in all, I think both teams are ready to compete,” Keninger said. “It’s going to be an exciting game.”
Duax said he wishes nothing but the best for the Hawks, with the exception of this game.
“I still have great relationships with a lot of those guys and a lot of those parents,” he said. “I want them to win every single game but one.”
Burns is looking forward to getting his first taste of the rivalry.
“This is my first experience of Ankeny vs Ankeny Centennial, and I am really excited to be a part of this game,” he said. “It will be a great advertisement for soccer in the city of Ankeny, so I encourage as many people as possible from the community to get out there and support both schools.”