CEDAR RAPIDS — The rumor is Cedar Rapids Xavier girls’ soccer coach Doug Graham has been especially hard on his team in the early part of the 2012 season. Practices have been difficult, conditioning tough.
Well, it’s not really a rumor. It’s fact.
“This year is a completely different year,” said Xavier’s Annie Dale. “Coach has been so much more hard on us. He just makes everyone work that much harder. It’s crazy.”
That’s not supposed to be taken as complaining, mind you. These girls can take it.
It’s all in an attempt to make them better individually and collectively, and they understand that.
“We’re not as deep as we have been,” Graham said. “It’s like ‘I know you’re a good player. I’ve seen you since you were 9 years old, playing club. This is about how can you be better?’”
No one has been better than the Xavier Saints in girls’ soccer the past decade.
They’ve been to the state tournament nine years in a row and have won a state championship six straight years. They have an active streak of 18 straight state tourney wins.
If they seven-peat, they’ll set a state record. No girls’ team, regardless of sport, has won seven consecutive titles.
“There’s always that fear (of losing), with expectations,” said Xavier’s Mary Levett. “But we just try to not think about it. It’s more important that we just try our best. I would rather fail if I put forth all effort possible than fail knowing I could have given more.”
Levett is one of eight starters back for Xavier, which won its season opener last week over Cedar Rapids Prairie. She joins Sammi Shepard and Nicole Noonan on the back line. Senior Lucy Martin would have made it four-for-four in returning starters on defense, but she is recovering from a knee injury that will keep her out until at least late in the season.
Up front, you don’t get much more firepower than Dale, Kayla Armstrong and Lauren Konchar, who combined for 68 goals last season. Armstrong led the way with 36 as a sophomore. Marissa Berutti also has starting experience as a forward.
“With every year, it’s a new beginning,” Levett said. “I think the harder we work now, the more that will pay off later. Timing was different with the new starters we have, and spring break kind of cut into things. So practices have been a little bit more rigorous so far this year.”
“We don’t look any further than the upcoming game,” Graham said. “We always emphasize that this is about personal growth. Everybody pushes everybody.”
Goalkeeper and midfield are the only spots of relative concern coming into the season, considering that’s where graduation hit. Trust these Saints when they say repeating – again – isn’t a concern.
They just want to play the games.
“Sometimes it’s hard, when people doubt us all the time,” Konchar said. “When they say stuff like ‘You guys are going to be the team that (breaks the streak).’ That just adds more fuel to the fire for us. We want to prove them wrong.”