Game On - Spring 2024

R egardless of the talent on the roster, the philosophy has not changed. It never will either, not as long as Danny Jones and Heather Currans captain the ship that is the Gil- bert girls’ soccer program. Be good students. Be good teammates. Be good people. And the rest will take care of it- self. That’s a winning philosophy in life. As it turns out, that’s a win- ning philosophy on the soccer pitch as well. The Tigers have reached the girls’ state soccer tournament 10 times in program history, in- cluding six of the past seven seasons not affected by COVID-19. It culminated with a trip to the Class 1A state final a season ago, and although the outcome didn’t go the Tigers’ way — they fell to Sioux City Heelan, 2-0 — the message rang out loud and clear: Gilbert is a state power. The co-head coaches believe all the success goes back to the foundation of the program. “Our expectations are to be the best you can be as an indi- vidual and the best you can be for the team, and if that puts us among the best in the state, that’s great,” Jones said. “Our goal is to win the game every time. But if that isn’t the case, you ask did we give everything we had? If the answer is yes, then we can live with the result.”

This isn’t to say Gilbert is the state favorite or that there won’t be blips along the way. The Raccoon River Conference is the Raccoon River Conference, after all, where landmines ap- pear on a nightly basis. But the coaches love their roster. As people, and as players. “This group is great,” Currans said. “They are not selfish at all and they’re highly coachable. They truly want what is best for the team and they care about one another.” Replacing seven full- or part- time starters won’t be easy, par- ticularly when one of the departed graduates — senior Sydney Lynch — accounted for 25 goals and 15 assists a sea- son ago. Replacing the majority of the back line won’t be easy either. But if coaching was easy, ev- eryone would do it. “In my mind, this is a brand new team,” Currans said. “I can have those memories and I can reminisce (about last season), but every year is a new year. Danny says it all the time, ‘If you lose yourself in the team, you get better and the team gets better.’ I believe it. For the most part, the success has come because the players buy into that.” This “new” team does include plenty of holdovers from last

Claire Koenig (1), a junior, piled up 12 goals a season ago to help Gilbert reach the Class 1A state championship match.

That “be all you can be” idea translated into a 14-6 record in 2023, and five of those six losses came against two state champions and three other state qualifiers. The Tigers also knocked off 2022 1A state champion Des Moines Christian in the state semifinal round, avenging one of those regular season losses. And it was that earlier loss that let Jones know his team was for real. “We got done playing Des Moines Christian in the second game of the year and I knew then we were either going to see them in the state semifinals

or state finals,” he said. “As the year went on, this group felt to me like a team that was going to make the finals. The tough- ness was there and that’s kind of a hallmark of our team.” Now the question must be asked: Can the Tigers do it all again?If the early-season re- sults are any indication, let’s just say the prognosis is trend- ing upward. Ranked No. 4 in the opening 1A poll of the season by the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, Gilbert promptly went out and toppled No. 5 Nevada and No. 1 Des Moines Christian by matching 1-0 scores.

SPRING 2024 | GAME ON 35

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