Girls soccer: Lady Dees conclude winning first season

KNOXVILLE — Tony Kurimski had a familiar feeling last Wednesday.

It's a feeling the current Albia soccer coach had two years earlier coaching a girls soccer team from the sidelines of scoreless postseason match at Ken Locke Stadium.

As the head coach of the Centerville High School girls soccer team in 2022, Kurimski earned his first win over Knoxville in thrilling fashion. Faith Owens fired a shot past Abby Wadle in the seventh round of a penalty-kick shootout, lifting Centerville past Knoxville in a Class 1A regional quarterfinal contest lifting the Redettes to the program's first win over the Panthers in eight years and an 11-win season for the first time in the history of the Centerville girls soccer program.

"That was a big win for that team," Kurimski said. "It was kind of signature win for the program."

Last Wednesday, Kurimski nearly saw another South Central Conference team pull off another signature postseason win at Knoxville. Like Centerville in 2022, the Albia Lady Dees battled to a scoreless draw with the Panthers after 80 minutes of regulation and a pair of 10-minute overtime periods leaving the fate of the match to be decided on penalty kicks.

This time, however, it would be Knoxville that would avoid a heartbreaking home loss to a South Central Conference rival. Ella Breazeale made a pair of saves in the shootout and making 11 saves over the first 100 minutes of play before a goal by Peyton Horn in the fifth and final round clinched a 3-1 win for the Panthers, ending an impressive winning first season for the Albia girls soccer program with a record of 8-6.

"I don't know if I can even compare what these girls accomplished here at Albia to what that Centerville team did two years ago," Kurimski said. "To look at what these girls have done this year, leading the conference in scoring and posting a winning record with four or five shutouts, these girls improved with every single game. Not all teams are like that, but these girls have bought in to what the coaches have been asking them.

"They've got such good attitudes. They're hard workers. They're starting to build something special that we're all really excited to be a part of."

Albia set a significant tone for what the program could accomplish in its inaugural season, winning 6-1 over Clarke at home back on Mar. 26 in the program's very first match. The Lady Dees only lost consecutive matches once during the course of the season with no loss by more than two goals, giving Albia a chance to compete for victories in all 14 matches in the program's first season.

"I remember, during the first season at Centerville, it took a lot of hard work just to be this competitive," Kurimski said. "I think I had about 12 players on the roster during that first season, so we were just happy to field a starting line-up. We struggled to put the ball in the net and play a full game."

While Albia more players on the roster with 19 athletes coming out to play soccer this spring, many of those players had little if any experience playing the sport. Sydney Hoskins, who has played multiple sports at Albia including volleyball and softball, had not played one minute of soccer before coming out with her younger sister, Morgan, to be part of the first-ever season of Lady Dee soccer.

"There were even some girls that hadn't played high school soccer that had at least played soccer as little kids. I was not one of them. I had never played soccer before this season," Hoskins said. "I just loved everyone that was playing. (Albia head soccer coach) Matt (Johnson) was a big factor in my decision to play. I'm so glad he convinced me to give it a try. I loved playing with these girls. The coaches are amazing. I'm so glad I had this opportunity."

Hoskins had several chances midway through the second half last Wednesday at Knoxville as the Lady Dees began to take the fight to the Panthers, looking to avenge a 2-0 loss during the regular season in a match that saw Albia put eight of nine total shots during the match on goal. After making eight saves in the shutout win last month, Breazeale again met the challenge of the Lady Dees stopping Hoskins twice in the final 20 minutes to keep Albia from taking a late lead in its bid for a winning postseason debut.

"You have to give a lot of props to (Breazeale). She made a lot of amazing saves," Hoskins said. "When we're on, we're on. We definitely like to work and run. Once we had the capability of doing it until the horn blew, which is unfortunately what stopped us. If we kept playing beyond the second overtime, I think we have the drive that we would have found a way to get a goal to win the game."

Ultimately, Albia could not find enough goals in the penalty-kick shootout to extend its season. Juliana Brown missed a shot high with a chance to tie the shootout in the second round before Morgan Teno was stopped by Breazeale in the third round keeping the Panthers ahead 1-0.

After a goal by Payton Kearney put Knoxville up 2-0, Albia called upon McKenna Cronin to extend the shootout and the season. Taking her first penalty kick, the senior delivered her final goal of the season beating Breazeale to extend the match before Horn's strike brought the match to a close.

"That was my first goal of the season," Cronin said. "I felt confident I could do it for my team. I just aimed for the corner and made it. It was nerve-racking, but I just kept thinking about the team and how much it meant for everyone.

"I played on the boys team last year, so this was my second year of soccer. I'm so proud of this team. I can't wait to see what the future is going to be like. I'm not surprised we had this type of success this year. We had the confidence and the drive. This program is only going to get better and better from here."