MUSCATINE - Kaela Dickerman was unlucky twice, but the spunky Kennedy sophomore got lucky at just the right time Friday night at the state soccer tournament.
As a result, the surging and surprising Cougars will be playing for the Class 3A state title Saturday afternoon against Ankeny, the imposing 2011 champs and No. 1 team in the state.
Dickerman lofted a long shot over the goalie's head with less than 8 minutes remaining to snap a scoreless tie and give the Cougars a dramatic 1-0 victory over Bettendorf in the semifinals on a comfortable evening at the Muscatine Soccer Complex.
"Honestly I was just trying to get it on goal," said Dickerman. "Hopefully it would hit the post and somebody could rebound it or something."
There was no need for that.
The seventh-ranked Cougars have already defeated No. 3 Iowa City West and No. 2 Bettendorf at the state tournament. Now they'll face No. 1 Ankeny for the crown.
"I'm ready to give them their first loss of the season. We're ready for it," said Kennedy goal keeper Allie Hutcheson, who pitched her second straight shutout.
Dickerman placed her shot perfectly, just over the keeper's arms and just under the crossbar from a fair distance.
"Maybe 30 yards? I don't really know. Not too far," she said. "Well, actually it was pretty far."
It was poetic justice for Dickerman, who knocked unlucky shots off the right post and the crossbar earlier in the match.
"I always hit the crossbar. That's like my thing," she said. "Honestly, I'm glad it went in."
So are the Cougars.
Dickerman dribbled up the field before letting it fly, just trying to create an opportunity for somebody else.
"She's that type of player," said Kennedy Coach Andrew McKnight, who has led the Cougars to the finals in his first year as head coach. "I mean, you have to leave her in there. She'll come alive at moments in the game when everyone else is sleeping."
The final seconds ticked away and all the Kennedy players raced to the middle of Field 3 for a big celebration, then broke apart to shake hands with the Bettendorf players.
"That was insane," said Dickerman of the group hug. "I've never been to the finals before. It feels good."
Kennedy (16-4) won the state title in 2009 and will be seeking its second crown in four years when it faces Ankeny (20-0). The Cougars were not considered a serious title threat when the tournament began, but they are now.
"I think at the beginning of the season we faced some rough patches and I think that actually really helped us at the end of the year," said Hutcheson, "because we've really come together as a team and kind of as a family. We've stepped it up and everybody brings this energy that we didn't bring at the beginning of the season that we need."
Kennedy junior Tory Harman thinks opponents have underestimated the Cougars.
"Hearing what everyone had to say about us really propelled us forward. And I think they're realizing that," said Harman, who played a strong game Friday.
"We lost to (West Des Moines) Valley six to zero during the season and we heard we were pretty easy to score on, but I think we've kind of defended ourselves. We've got two shutouts so far at state."
McKnight thinks there was a lot of parity in girls soccer this year. His Cougars are certainly proof of that.
"I think rankings sometime can be a little bit fuzzy," said McKnight, who came to the United States from Scotland in 1994. "It doesn't always tell the whole story. There are a lot of good teams. A lot of good teams beat each other."
Dickerman found herself surrounded by reporters after Friday's match, describing her goal and her team's trip to the championship match.
"Oh my god. I was so excited. I'm so glad we're going to finals," she said, bursting with energy and enthusiasm.
She thinks the Cougars have a realistic shot at the title.
"I think we do," she said. "I wasn't sure at the beginning, but now I think we really, really do."
The Cougars wiped the number "2" off the back of their hands following Friday's victory and replaced it with a big "1" with black magic markers. The countdown to a state title started with the regional tournament when they needed five victories to claim the title. Now they need only one more, but it's against the No. 1 team in the state.
"It's a team thing," said Harman. "I think we started as a team, we ended as a team. That's what's going to get us there and what's going to keep us going."
Ankeny topped Waukee, 2-1, in the other semifinal match Friday.
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