DES MOINES — Following West Liberty's state semifinal loss to two-time defending state champion Iowa City Regina, Comets head coach Walton Ponce had a lengthy discussion with his team.
There were some disappointed faces, but few tears after the Comets' bid for their first state title fell short in a 3-1 loss to the Regals on Saturday.
"There's nothing they need to put their head down about," Ponce said. "The way I'm associated with them, I consider them winners and great individuals and a great collective group."
West Liberty returns to the Cownie Soccer Complex to play Sioux Center in a consolation game Tuesday at 11:10 a.m., looking for its best state finish after placing fourth in 2012 and 2013.
"It's never fun to have that consolation game, but it's necessary to accept we didn't win this game and now it's time to go for third," junior Gabe Seele said. "It's hard to think about it right now because we just lost but once Tuesday comes around I'm sure we'll all be ready to go for it and give it our all."
West Liberty (12-8) was done in on two Regina penalty kicks in the second half, one coming from Jonah Warren in the 47th minute, just three minutes after Seele tied the game with a penalty kick of his own.
Alec Wick upped the lead to 3-1 with a penalty kick in the 71st minute.
The two Regina (17-6) penalties were set up by calls Ponce — who also works as a referee and serves as a referee instructor for the state — wasn't sure should have been made.
"Two divided balls," Ponce said. "It just destroys us, after we score, they get a questionable call and then when we are definitely attacking, there's another questionable call that just pretty much throws away the whole game. But it is what it is.
"What I'm proud of is our boys, even down 3-1 in the last 10 minutes, they're killing themselves trying to score that second goal."
Thanks to a change in the state scheduling this year due to weather, West Liberty has two days off instead of having to play three games in three days.
While that could lead to some added time thinking about the semifinal game, Ponce welcomes the short break, allowing his team to heal. The Comets will be without senior defender Carlos Galaviz, whose season ended with an injury in the quarterfinal win over North Polk.
"I think mentally will be the challenging part for my team," Ponce said, "to get them up and reiterate the huge accomplishment of being here and being third in the state when nobody expected us to be here."