A deep and talented roster usually gives the Ankeny Centennial girls’ soccer team an advantage over most of its opponents.
But the Jaguars’ foe on Wednesday in the Class 3A semifinals at the state tournament was not your average team.
Top-ranked Valley relied on a wave of substitutions to wear down No. 5 Centennial on a hot and humid afternoon at Cownie Soccer Park. After giving up an early goal, the Tigers rallied for a 2-1 victory to advance to Friday’s championship game against No. 8 Ankeny.
“The girls fought hard, but Valley is a good team that can run five subs at a time throughout the game and have quality, threatening players the entire time,” said Centennial coach Chris Allen. “It was just tough to finish under that constant pressure. It was just a huge barrage.”
Centennial finished the season with an 18-3 record. The Jaguars also lost to Valley in the semifinals in 2017.
“I’m so proud of everyone on the team,” said Centennial sophomore Alanna Pennington, who scored the Jaguars’ only goal. “I love the girls so much, and I wish I could have one more (game) with the seniors.”
Centennial had handed Valley (20-1) its only loss on April 13. The Tigers are now riding a 17-game winning streak.
“They were pretty consistent,” Allen said of the Tigers. “They ran an attacking line change about 15 minutes into the game and took advantage of the water breaks. They were just real threatening with their individual attacks on the outside.”
The Jaguars got off to a good start, though, and took a 1-0 lead at the 15-minute mark. The goal came after a throw-in pass and appeared to catch the Valley defense off-guard.
Meghan White was left alone in the left corner, and she crossed the ball to Pennington in the box. Pennington’s first strike was deflected back to her by Valley goalkeeper Lydia Anderson, but she then easily finished for her ninth goal of the season.
“I don’t think they were ready for it,” Pennington said. “Meg just crossed it and no one was defending me, and I just got a touch on the ball.”
The Jaguars’ momentum eventually stalled, however, and Valley tied the game after Anna Van Wyngarden was fouled in the box at the 24:43 mark. Catie Johnson then converted the ensuing penalty kick.
“We were really threatening at the start,” Allen said. “We just kind of fell out of our game a little bit, but you have to understand in the situation–going back-to-back in 90 degrees–it’s not going to be perfect, and I absolutely understand that. It wasn’t for lack of effort.”
The score remained tied at 1-1 for more than 30 minutes. The two teams were just a few minutes away from another water break midway through the second half when Valley’s Jayce Loecke headed the ball into the net for the game-winner off a cross from Gabby Gaffney.
Centennial goalkeeper Aly Jumper recorded eight saves, but it wasn’t enough.
“We definitely got tired with the heat, but I think we stayed with it and the water breaks really helped,” :Pennington said.
Centennial had a couple of late chances to score an equalizer, but Valley’s defense was up to the challenge. The Tigers then milked the final 2 minutes off the clock in the attacking third.
“I’m absolutely proud of the girls,” Allen said. “We kind of put the fear in everybody’s eyes. I’m sure Valley will be a little worn out after playing us. It wasn’t going to be an easy route to the finals, and we gave it everything we had.”