MUSCATINE - The girls on the Kennedy High School soccer team got out their black magic markers Thursday after they defeated Iowa City West in the state tournament.
They quickly erased the "3" on their back of their hands and replaced it with a "2," because that's how many more victories they need to win the Class 3A state title.
The seventh-ranked Cougars blanked No. 3 Iowa City West, 2-0, in the quarterfinals Thursday at the Muscatine Soccer Complex.
The ritual with the black numbers on the back of their hands began before the regional tournament started last week. That's when Coach Andrew McKnight called the team together and discussed their possible path to a state crown.
"I said, 'Look, there are five games left in the season. So let's figure out a way to build some momentum," he explained.
That began the ritual with the magic markers.
The Cougars wrote a "5" on their hands before they beat Clinton in the regional semifinals, then they wrote a "4" on their hands before they beat Dubuque Hempstead in the regional finals, and they wrote a "3" before they beat Iowa City West Thursday.
Now all of the determined Cougars have a "2" on the back of their hands as they brace for Bettendorf (18-2) in the semifinals on Friday at 7 p.m. on Field 3.
If they upset the second-ranked Bulldogs in the semifinals, they'll wipe the "2" off their hands and replace it with a "1," which could be especially significant because they might have to beat No. 1 Ankeny in the finals.
"I told the girls at the start of the season I had a sneaky suspicion - I don't know why - but it would be West High, Bettendorf and Ankeny (at the state tournament) if we are successful," said McKnight.
If the Cougars (15-4) capture the state championship, it might have to include victories over No. 3 Iowa City West, No. 2 Bettendorf and No. 1 Ankeny. If all that happens, the Cougars can draw a bunch of happy faces on their hands.
Kennedy looked like a M*A*S*H unit at times Thursday with players limping and shaken up. Hannah Palomo aggravated a painful knee injury that sent her to the bench for treatment, Kaela Dickerman absorbed a series of hard knocks that left her battered and bruised, and Emily Feltes was walking around with a bag of ice on her knee.
"Soccer is a contact sport. You guys know that," McKnight told reporters.
All three wounded Cougars returned to the field and helped Kennedy blank Iowa City West for the second time this season.
Palomo hurt her knee in the regional semifinals against Clinton and wears a brace for support. "I just pulled tendons. It's nothing major," she said nonchalantly. "I'm going to push through it. It doesn't feel good, but it's definitely worth it."
Allie Hutcheson sparkled in goal for the Cougars to keep the Women of Troy off the scoreboard. She made three diving saves in the first six minutes of the game when Iowa City West came out firing.
"As long as the ball doesn't go in the back of the net it's good," said Hutcheson, who doubled at Kennedy as an all-state volleyball player. "Our defense did a great job the whole game."
Hutcheson is good at blocking a ball, whether it's a volleyball or soccer ball. "Allie is a fantastic athlete and a fantastic goal keeper," said McKnight. "She played a good game today."
Palomo gave Kennedy a 1-0 lead with 19:44 left in the first half with a breakaway goal on a pass from Feltes. Iowa City West keeper Jayne Heinrich raced out and partially deflected the shot, but the ball rolled slowly across the goal mouth and gently tickled the twine.
Dickerman made it 2-0 when she snuck along the right baseline, got near the goal and fired from a tough angle with 33:34 left in the game.
"I got it between the goalie's legs," said Dickerman with a happy smile. "It was a sharp angle. I'm kind of surprised I got it, honestly, but I'm real excited I did."
Iowa City West (17-3) had its chances, but Hutcheson was a stone wall. Alli Peterson fired a shot over Hutcheson's head that appeared headed for paydirt late in the game, but it hit the crossbar and bounced away with 1:20 left to play. Shortly after, the Cougars were celebrating their victory.
"It's huge for our team, it's huge for our confidence, because we've gotten stuck in the quarterfinals the last few years," said Hutcheson. "Just getting past this kind of gives us new life and lets us keep going."
Kennedy is playing in the state tournament for the seventh straight year.
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