SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Council Bluffs St. Albert couldn’t have drawn up a better start.

Facing longtime nemesis Sioux City Heelan, Makenna Shepard and Teagan Blackburn scored in the first five minutes.

“It was looking bright,’’ St. Albert senior Erin Wright said.

But the Crusaders responded quickly. Ellie Gengler and Ashley Aesoph answered to even things by the 18th minute. Gengler snapped a 3-3 tie with two goals in five minutes to complete a hat trick and lift No. 9 Heelan past the 11th-rated Saintes 6-3 in a Class 1-A Region 1 semifinal.

Seeking its 14th state appearance in 16 years, Heelan (10-7) will host unrated MOC-Floyd Valley (10-6) at 6 p.m. Monday for a trip to state.

The Saintes (11-8) probably would have chosen a different opponent in their region. They usually meet Heelan in the regular season, and they haven’t beaten the Crusaders since a regional final victory 20 years ago.

Last season, the teams met in a 1-A state quarterfinal in Des Moines, with Heelan winning 2-0.

The Saintes entered with confidence.

“This is the best team we’ve had in about five years,’’ St. Albert coach Chris Hughes said. “This is about as healthy as we’ve been all year, actually. It’s just sad, when some of these girls have been with you for so long. They’ve been phenomenal.’’

After the speedy Shepard opened the scoring and Blackburn knocked in a rebound off a Baylee Ratliff penalty kick, Heelan hit the Saintes with three goals in a 12-minute span of the first half. Brooke Doohen took a high pass on the right side, muscled herself into position and scored to give the Crusaders a 3-2 lead in the 29th minute.

But Ratliff sent the Saintes to the intermission deadlocked, lofting a left-footed, arcing shot from a nearly impossible angle  from the corner over the keeper.

Heelan controlled the majority of possession in the second half, and it eventually paid off. Katie Cooke was taken down in the box in the 49th minute, and Gengler converted the penalty kick for a 4-3 lead. Gengler then bounced one off the bottom of the crossbar and in from long range in the 54th minute to give the Crusaders a two-goal cushion, and Brooklin Froehlich closed the scoring in the 79th minute.

Heelan has become adept at overcoming trouble this year. Starting keeper Karen Hernandez and fellow starters Katelyn Stanley and Gabby Kukuk went down with ACL tears this year — Stanley and Kukuk in the first game — and starter Hannah Hutchinson went down with a broken ankle. 

“We’ve been responding really well to adversity,’’ Heelan coach Clark Charlestin said. “It’s not a race. There was a lot of soccer to be played’’ after the first two goals.

The Saintes had four seniors in action on Friday: Wright, Kalyn Wettengel, Lexie Petry and Maggie Sneed.

“It’s been so much fun playing with them,’’ Wettengel said. “I’m so proud of what we’ve done this season.’’

Said Wright: “Just all the emotions are flowing right now. We just had a real good team chemistry, and I’m really going to miss them.’’

Hughes said he appreciated the team’s willingness to accept coaching.

“They’re good kids,’’ he said. “They care, and they like each other. A lot of teams don’t have that.’’

CB St. Albert (11-8)..............3 0—3

S.C. Heelan (10-7)................3 3—6

Goals: SA, Teagan Blackburn, Makenna Shepard, Baylee Ratliff; H, Ellie Gengler 3, Ashley Aesoph, Brooke Doohen, Brooklin Froehlich. Assists: SA, Shepard, Ratliff; H, Ashlyn Peck 2

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