The Early Lead: Ole, Ole, Ole
By BRANDON HURLEY
Brush up on your soccer terminology folks, because we are turning the corner toward the home stretch for the inaugural Greene County High School soccer season.
Get ready for heavy use of “pitch,” “in form,” corner kicks, headers, penalty kicks and long periods of game action – high school sanctioned soccer will be here before you know it.
The spring of 2018 may seem far off, but for a program that is in its infancy, preparation starts now as the Rams ramp up fundraising efforts.
Head coaches for the boys’ and girls’ programs have yet to be named, but the Greene County athletic department is expecting to field a pair of teams next April.
With that notion, let’s take a moment to remove ourselves from any potential budget issues the new sport may cause and focus on the positive athletic ramifications a high school soccer program will have.
The state of soccer at the club level in Jefferson is strong – 117 kids dot the landscape of the youth teams, so there is certainly passion within the community.
Growing soccer locally adds another layer of excitement to the Greene County spring sports season. Currently, only track and golf are offered through Greene County High School while Paton-Churdan fielded just one spring team this year (boys’ track). Options are slim for athletes and fans.
Track and golf are fantastic sports for any competitor, but they aren’t for everyone.
Track and field provides plenty of competitiveness, but outside of the postseason events, they don’t bring in a whole lot of fanfare. It’s tough to get casual spectators out to a regular season golf meet as well.
Soccer gives sports enthusiasts and observers another outlet in the spring.
This expansion within the athletic department is a welcome challenge for new Greene County AD, Mitch Moore. He wants students to broaden their horizons and avoid specialization.
“We have tough kids in this community. I think we need to concentrate on guys or girls being multi-sport athletes,” new Moore said. “This idea of being a one sport athlete and not helping your teammates out in other sports, to me, that’s not how you build a culture.”
The new soccer program also arrives just in time for the 2018 World Cup next summer in Russia, which may in turn give the program an extra boost in popularity. The World Cup is the most viewed and attended sporting event in the world and lasts for several weeks. Soccer is insanely popular worldwide and has been for decades. It’s been growing fast in the United States for years – some of the world’s best professional soccer players continue to make the jump to the MLS. Minnesota just added a professional franchise this year and Sporting Kansas City is enjoying a breakout year.
The women’s national team enjoyed a boom in viewership in 2015 and a handful of their athletes are among the most famous female athletes in the country while the European men’s players are some of the most famous athletes in the world.
If soccer gains popularity in this community, it could push the athletic department to greater heights, which in turn, could bring in more money to the school, which could produce better equipment for students, upgraded facilities and maybe even bring in more students to the district.
A shift is occurring within the athletic department (though we are in its fancy) and there’s plenty of potential for the school to grow athletically.
The kids here in Greene County, just from the ones I’ve had the opportunity to cover and interact with, are dedicated and seem to work hard with no sense of entitlement. It’s one of the recipes for success at the prep level. And though soccer players tend to lean toward the finesse side, a quality strength and conditioning program Moore is establishing can only help the soccer athletes.
Competition will improve with increased strength and stamina. Occasionally, conditioning can overcome a talent gap in high school football, wrestling or soccer. It sounds cliche, but, execution, because it’s at the prep level, can outperform raw talent. A quality coach will key in on an opponent that is tired or weak and exploit it.
Now, let’s asses the competition the boys’ and girls’ soccer squads will face once the program is established.
The boys’ Heart of Iowa Conference is essentially a one team race these days, it’s a five-team league to boot.
Outside of Gilbert – who reached the 1A state semifinals this spring – the remaining four teams were all under .500.
Gilbert was dominant, compiling a 16-3 record to go with 60 goals scored (which was the ninth best mark in the state).
North Polk (4-10) and PCM (3-8) were the bottom feeders this spring, with the PCM Mustangs scoring just five goals all year.
There are just four girls’ teams in the Heart of Iowa Conference, and things will be a bit more tricky to navigate. Nevada, Gilbert and North Polk all made state this past spring producing a combined record of 47-7. The fourth team in the conference, PCM, went 1-8 and only scored two goals all year.
The creation of a Greene County program also benefits the Boone soccer program as well. The Rams shared soccer with the Toreadors this past spring. Thanks to sharing agreements with Greene County, Ogden and Madrid, Boone was forced to play in 3A along with Des Moines and Cedar Rapids metro schools, putting them at significant athletic disadvantage.
Greene County’s enrollment, with Paton-Churdan taken into account, put them at 353 entering the 2017 summer season, which places them firmly in 2A and perhaps even down to 1A. Gilbert boasts an enrollment of 337 while Nevada was at 356 and both schools played the 2017 season in 1A.
West Central Valley was in 2A with an enrollment of 364. Greene County falls in between Gilbert and WCV. Of course, the numbers can change before next spring.
The classification breakdown is as follows: The 48 largest schools in the state are slotted in 3A while the next 48 are placed in 2A, the remaining Iowa schools are placed in 1A.
If this classification occurs, it’s a win right off the bat for Greene County. The chance to play in the lowest class benefits the Rams athletically and could help ease them into the sport, perhaps enduring less damaging growing pains.
The beginning will be rough, sure, and it may be for awhile.
The Rams sent their 12 girls and boys varsity soccer players to Boone this year, and only three boys (one was a senior) played in 2017 to the nine girls. That’s not to say there weren’t a number of athletes sticking to club soccer and not dabbling in high school soccer out east.
Isaiah Losee – a Greene County sophomore – started all season long for the Boone boys’ team, while GC senior Marcelo Alarcon graduated after three years as goal keeper.
A majority of the Greene County girls were freshman and sophomores – there’s potential for growth and clearly, excitement for the game is there. Freshman Kassie Lamoureux was second on the Boone team with five goals while freshman goalkeeper Bailey Cunningham was a welcome breakout surprise – she tallied a staggering 327 saves in 17 games.
Above all else, a Greene County soccer program gives the students another sport to take pride in. It’s a chance for the students and staff to help build something from the ground up. Whether it takes a handful of years or if the Rams quickly become relevant is impossible to predict, but with such an easily accessible sport (all you need to practice the craft is a soccer ball and friends), it has potential for some extended success.