SIOUX CITY — Gary Fuentes took a step back and watched as the students, parents and fans of the West High School boys soccer team flooded the field after perhaps the biggest win in program history.
Fuentes, the Wolverines’ coach, took pride in that moment. He saw what going to the state tournament meant to the Riverside community.
Fuentes — along with South Sioux coach Lupe Gonzalez — are this season’s Journal co-coaches of the year in soccer.
Fuentes is one of them, a West grad himself. After Brian Sanchez scored the golden goal, almost everyone wearing green at Riverside Field stormed the pitch.
He wanted to take a step back, taking in the moment. It was a moment that he knew he’d never forget, even when his coaching days at West end.
The Wolverines were trailing 3-0 to Lewis Central in that match, however.
Fuentes could see that his team wasn’t playing as well as it had been all season, so the West coach gave his group an important message at halftime: Put in the work and make a comeback.
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Sure enough, they did.
The Wolverines scored thrice in less than 13 minutes to stun the Titans and get back to the state tournament in Des Moines.
“For one, it was great to see all the support that we had out there that day from alumni, from current students to staff,” Fuentes said. “I think it was huge for the entire West side to see the work that was put in by the boys during the season, and being able to celebrate that with the fans after the game.
“I think it's big for all of our feeder schools, for our middle school, for upcoming players, to be able to look at the banners on the wall because we've got five other banners on that wall between 2010 to 2015,” Fuentes added.
Before the season started, Fuentes was unsure of what West was capable of doing. The Wolverines went 9-8 two years before, and the expectations weren’t really that high.
“A majority of those guys were new, so I was very unsure what we were capable of,” Fuentes said. “I didn't know what we were looking at. I knew a few of the players, but just didn't know how they would mesh together as a group.”
Gonzalez goes out with state berth
Lupe Gonzalez and South Sioux soccer are synonymous.
So, it’s fitting that Gonzalez retired by leading the Cardinals to one last state berth.
The Cardinals lost in the quarterfinals to Lexington, and following the match, Gonzalez told his South Sioux players that he’d retire.
Gonzalez won two state championships with the Cardinals. He won titles in 2013 in 2018 in sanctioned play, and then he won two championships at the club soccer level.
Gonzalez said that this season was the most unique.
South Sioux got off to a rocky 1-7 start. Gonzalez admitted that times were tough at the beginning, but he credited the Cardinals for taking the ups and downs in stride.
"They stuck together and stuck it out and bought into the idea of 'It's not how you start, but how you finish,'" Gonzalez said. "There was just one thing after another."
Gonzalez’s peers noticed the hard work and success he put in on the Nebraska side.
Fuentes was one of them.
“I know they put in a lot of work over there with their guys,” Fuentes said. “You've set that spark in the program and the expectation is you want to be at the state tournament at the end of the year. So he's done an amazing job. I have known Lupe for years. I think he's a great coach over there with the boys, and they definitely accomplished a lot for South Sioux High School.”
Other local accomplishments
Let’s not forget about the other metro coaches who took teams to the state tournaments.
Sergeant Bluff-Luton boys coach Aaron Witmer helped the Warriors get to just the second state tournament in program history.
The Warriors won nine of their last 10 matches, including a substate victory against Storm Lake to get to state.
Witmer’s main key was getting the players to believe in themselves. After losing to the Tornadoes in 2019 in the state qualifier, SB-L wondered whether it could get back to state.
Witmer put in a mindset early that the Warriors definitely could break that barrier, which they did.
The Bishop Heelan girls team also went on a hot streak to get back to the IGHSAU tournament.
The Crusaders started out the season with an 0-4 clip, but won six matches in a row to clinch a state berth.
That also included five wins in a row by way of a shutout.
Shawn Mansfield came back to coach the Crusaders after a small hiatus. The Crusaders welcomed back Mansfield on Nov. 9, 2019, following a five-year absence by Mansfield. He stepped away from coaching after leading the Crusaders for 15 years.