COUNCIL BLUFFS — Underwood players know they’re losing the numbers game on a regular basis. It hasn’t stopped them from winning every time they step on the soccer field this spring.
The Eagles’ huddle appeared tiny compared to Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson’s Monday night at Wickersham Stadium. But 13th-smallest school in the state to offer girls soccer came up big in key moments while pulling out a 2-1 victory.
Brooke Cooper knocked in a free kick from 30 yards out in the first half, and Hailey James converted on a breakaway in the 43rd minute to give Underwood its first lead. The Iowa Class 1-A No. 11 squad survived multiple late T.J. advances, then celebrated its second win over a much larger school in three days after shocking Sioux City West 6-0 on Saturday.
“I think we embrace being the underdog because we are smaller,” Underwood coach Kent Cooper said. “I mean, look at the size of (Thomas Jefferson’s) team compared to ours. We have 16 girls, and they have a full roster.”
Underwood can’t field a junior varsity team, and the low participation means Cooper doesn’t have any coaching help. Instead, longtime players such as his senior daughter, Brooke, and sophomore twin sisters Hailey and Hannah James have filled in as de facto assistants. Taking down big schools in the last few days has energized the seventh-year program in a new way, even after going 15-3 a season ago.
The defense saw its 126-minute scoreless streak end Monday when T.J. senior Stephanie Hand guided in a hard liner that rolled 30 yards and bounced in off the far post. But the back line of Emma Bonnet, Jasmin Benedict, Alexa Martinez and Lauren Shapcott — along with keeper Alexis Morales-Foote — stymied the Class 3-A Jackets the rest of the way as the Eagles improved to 4-0.
Bonnet, also a track standout who owns the school record in the 400-meter dash, tracked down multiple balls from her stopper position.
Brooke Cooper said the team is Exhibit A of how girls with different personalities and interests can come together. Forward Sydnie Collins and midfielder Hailey James also do track with Bonnet and Shapcott. Key reserves Rachel Teten and Jordan Ollie balance soccer with golf.
“It’s all about team right now. We’re all able to put everything aside and pull together for the team,” the younger Cooper said. “We have a lot of new girls, but they’re stepping up to the plate and helping us out. It’s really fun out there.”
Hailey James notched her team-leading ninth goal off a breakaway feed from Cooper to start the second half. Sister Hannah (flu) stayed home while Underwood’s thin bench filled in.
Thomas Jefferson (1-3) started four freshmen and four sophomores while playing its fourth straight home game against a ranked opponent. It nearly tied the game on multiple occasions, with the closest call a Josey Starner breakaway liner from 10 yards that Morales-Foote corralled with 10 minutes left.
Coach Mark Royer said a freshman offered the best description of the Jackets: They’re like a roller coaster at the top of a hill ready to roll.
“When it goes, it’s going to happen,” Royer said. “It’s there, we’ve got it. We just have to connect. Practices have been spirited and good — we’re just not getting the results, but I’m by no means discouraged.”
Underwood (4-0)........................1 1—2
CB Thomas Jefferson (1-3).......1 0—1
Goals: U, Brooke Cooper, Hailey James. CBTJ, Stephanie Hand.
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