COUNCIL BLUFFS — Will Lukowski just doesn’t understand it.
Iowa Western’s sophomore keeper has had an outstanding soccer career while playing on some very good teams. But those teams, for whatever reason, have always come up short.
His prep team in Lee’s Summit, Mo., lost to the eventual Missouri Class 3 champion in district play during his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. And his club team, Kansas City Futbol Club United, has fallen in the state championship match for three consecutive years.
“I feel like I’m cursed, honestly,” he said. “I can never win a team championship.”
Iowa Western coach Jordan Carver heard some of Lukowski’s tales for the first time this week.
“If I’d have known all this stuff prior, I’d have never recruited him,” he jested.
All jokes aside, Lukowski’s curse seems to have followed him to Council Bluffs. Last year, the then-unbeaten Reivers fell to Marshalltown 1-0 in the Region XI championship match.
After opening the season at 17-0-1, Iowa Western didn’t qualify for the NJCAA tournament.
“I just couldn’t believe that we weren’t going to nationals,” Lukowski said.
The second-team NJCAA All-American recalls nothing from the match. He didn’t play in it.
After a season in which he set a school record by recording 12 shutouts and allowed only eight goals in 18 matches (a 0.44 goals-against average), Lukowski had to sit out the final match with a concussion suffered in a semifinal win over Dakota County Tech (Minn.).
“To be honest, I don’t really remember it,” he said. “My head was still really messed up.”
What he did know was that the Reiver season ended, and he couldn’t stop it.
Lukowski said the loss has served as motivation for his second, and final, season at Iowa Western.
“For me, individually, it was extremely hard,” he said. “Not being able to play in the last game, to watch everybody and see how disappointed they were, it was really hard. This offseason, that’s all I could think about.”
The Reivers, with a healthy Lukowski, got another shot at the Tigers on Wednesday in Council Bluffs. Iowa Western (7-0) blanked Marshalltown 3-0 in the rain. It was the team’s fifth straight shutout.
Heading into Saturday’s match at Indian Hills, Iowa Western has not lost a game with Lukowski in goal.
Carver said his keeper has been successful because of the job he does setting up his defense.
“He’s a great communicator, sometimes to the point where he’s obnoxious,” Carver said.
It’s limited the number of shots he’s faced while with the Reivers. He’s stopped the others.
“The two or three big saves he’d have to make in the game, he made them,” Carver said. “He may not get a lot of action in the games, but when they finally got through, he was clutch.”
The Iowa Western coach said Lukowski improved during the offseason, especially in distributing the ball. His punts and goalie kicks are more consistent, Carver said.
That’s limited the opportunities opponents have had to counter.
Otero (Colo.) did score three goals against Lukowski in what the All-American called a “humbling” opener. The Reivers still won that match in Wyoming 4-3.
Iowa Western then edged Laramie County (Wyo.) 2-1 in its second game. Lukowski didn’t shut out the Golden Eagles, but he did stop a penalty kick that would’ve put them in front.
“If that goal goes in, they probably could’ve won that game,” Carver said.
Lukowski has never given up a PK goal in regulation at Iowa Western. He also stopped two in his most recent state championship match with his club team. Both were then overruled.
With his team up by one with a minute left in double overtime, Lukowski made the save on a potential game-tying penalty kick. However, officials ruled he had come off his line early.
After the match went into a shootout, Lukowski made another save. The officials brought it back again, making the same ruling. KCFC United went on to lose the title match.
Video later proved neither call was correct. The keeper was left without a title again.
“I’ve never been able to win a team championship. For some of the accolades that I’ve gotten individually, I’ve never been able to do something as a team,” he said. “That’s been my biggest upset because I want to be able to share that moment with my team and celebrate.
“It’s not fun. It’s not fun to have that heartbreak.”
The All-American is hoping he can overcome his personal curse this fall. The Reivers are ranked third in the NJCAA poll and are again the favorites to win the Region XI championship.
Lukowski feels anything less than a berth to the national tournament will be disappointing.
“I feel like there’s a time,” he said. “This is my time.”