DES MOINES | There they were, a pack of Wolverines, holding the state tournament trophy high as they ran with it to show their fans late Saturday afternoon.
You would have thought West had just won the Class 3A state boys soccer championship. Coach Gary Fuentes’ Wolverines may have lost the third-place game 4-2 to Johnston, but they played with pride and continued to show it in greeting the Sioux Cityans who made the 190-mile trip to James W. Cownie Soccer Park.
Then, they crossed the field. They picked up their gear. They talked amongst themselves. It would be the last bus trip home for senior forward Gilbert Garcia, one of the most decorated players in West boys soccer history with career totals of 66 goals and 36 assists.
The bus rides are something Garcia will always remember. Perhaps the most memorable of those was the trip back to the hotel after Thursday’s 3-2 sudden-death penalty kick first-round win over Iowa City High, the first-ever state tournament win for a program that had dropped five opening-round games, including those from 2011 to 2014.
“It was great fun, a great four years for me,” said Garcia, who scored both of Saturday’s goals, the first two in the six state tournament games he experienced.
“With the team, it was always fun. I always had a great time. I will always remember my teammates, having fun on the bus on the way to games. I had a great group of people to work with.”
So does Fuentes. His squad, 20-2 on the season set school records with their win total and 110 goals, also a Class 3A state record. It was the first time Fuentes had brought an undefeated team to Cownie Soccer Park.
“Going through an undefeated season for me in amazing,” said Fuentes, who has an 87-29 record in six seasons as head coach.
“To be part of a team like this and to experience it is huge,” he added. “Getting past the first round was even better. For me, this is a memorable year. I’m very dedicated to the program and the boys are very dedicated. This is the kind of program we want to build. This is what West High needs.”
“It was a great season,” said Garcia, one of four Iowa Lakes Community College recruits along with senior midfielders Juan Perez and Richard Moncada.