Return trip, better prepared
By: John Zetmeir
It would be an understatement to say that high school soccer in Kansas is dominated by teams on the eastern side of the state.
Since the classifications for soccer started in 1991, only two 6A teams located west of Topeka have won a state championship. Wichita North, who is currently a 6A school, won a state title in 1989.
Most of the teams that have won state championships, in any classification, that are located west of Topeka reside in the greater Wichita area. In 2011, Liberal became the first true western Kansas team to win a boys soccer state champions when they captured the 5A title.
While the lopsided numbers might suggest a talent discrepancy,soccer has been a staple in communities in western Kansas.
Dodge City High School head coach Saul Hernandez, a Dodge City native, does not think it is a lack of talent that has separated the western teams from competing at the highest level. He believes than main factor has been discipline, particularly in his hometown.
“If you’re not disciplined off the field, you’re not going to be disciplined on the field,” Hernandez said. “There has been some top teams from Dodge City but since they don’t have that discipline, they don’t work together as a team and that’s what’s gone wrong.”
When Hernandez arrived back in Dodge City prior to the 2015 season, he knew that he needed to groom his team into one that had discipline. He wanted a team that would both win and lose with class. Though, he has not had to deal with much losing since his arrival.
He recognized the talent level from the very first day of practice and his team respected him enough to listen and accept his coaching.
“We get along with coach (Hernandez),” Dodge City junior Joshua DonJuan said. “We can communicate with him and he understands more about soccer than our previous coaches. Basically, we have more chemistry than we did before.”
The Dodge City boys traveled 273 miles further than the next closest school for last year’s state semifinals. It was a new experience for both Hernandez and his players.
“We’ve been there before so we’re experienced,” Dodge City junior Miguel Baca said. “The nerves aren’t all there like they were last year. We’re a lot more composed this year.”
The Red Demons (19-0) earned a second-consecutive trip to the semifinals with a 3-0 win over Garden City on Tuesday.As a player, the furthest Hernandez ever got in the state playoffs was the quarterfinals. As the Red Demons’ head coach, he boasts a 38-2 record.
When they arrive in Wichita they will, again, be the only team from a community west of Topeka.
“The boys want to prove that we do know how to play soccer over here,” Hernandez said. “Even when I was playing, we didn’t get the respect that I thought we deserved and these boys are 100 times better than we were. I just want everyone to recognize and see what I see in them because they are a great group of boys and they are great soccer players as well.”
In last year’s semifinals, the Red Demons lost to Blue Valley Northwest after conceding a goal 10 seconds before the halftime break. Blue Valley Northwest went on to win the state championship.
Hernandez had “10 seconds” inscribed on this year’s team shirts to remind his team how one mistake in a small amount of time can cost a team a shot at their ultimate objective. That goal is something that still motivates the players who were apart of last year’s team.
“We still look back at that and think, what if?” Baca said.
In order to play for a 6A state championship, the Red Demons will have to get past Shawnee Mission East (17-1-1) in the first semifinal at Wichita South on Friday evening. The Lancers’ lone loss this season is to Olathe East (18-1) who is also in the semifinals.
Dodge City and Shawnee Mission East will kickoff at 5 p.m.