The Early Lead: Greene County’s state tournament berth is a testament to perseverance and heart
By BRANDON HURLEY
Head coach Carl Behne believes Greene County’s return trip to the state tournament can be credited to a number of things, but only one sticks out - heart.
Tears welled up when Alex Roberts considered the magnitude of the moment.
The return was as improbable as it was deserving.
The loss of nearly 60 goals from the season prior didn’t quite paint a picture of elite. The incredible task of quickly recovering from last year’s pandemic-induced lost season, full of sky-high expectations, figured to take some time.
Add that on to a devastating injury not even a third into this current season and one likely could assume an average run was in store.
Greene County’s boys’ soccer team never stopped believing, continuing to churn out victories resulting in the program’s second state tournament berth in just its third season of existence.
The achievement was dedicated to one of the Rams’ few seniors, the injured Luis Velazco. The striker was poised to stake his claim among the state’s best, having scored six goals in the first three games this spring while also chipping in nearly 30 goals as a sophomore in 2019. Then, everything went awry in game number four against Carroll, a gruesome broken leg, ending ending his season prematurely.
Behind Velazco’s offensive prowess and a young crop of talented athletes, Greene County was a heavy favorite to return to Des Moines. before as it seemed, the entire structure came crumbling to the ground.
Instead of tumbling down with him, Greene County rallied around the injured veteran, promising their fallen brother they’d make state just for him.
The Rams stood at a crossroads with a 1-2 record at the time of Velazco’s departure, in need of a culture shift.
The 13 ensuing victories were a nod not only to Greene County’s remarkable depth, but also to Velaczco’s continued value, as he stayed committed, attending practices and acting as somewhat of a player assistant during games.
His devotion came to a head following Greene County’s thrilling shootout victory over West Central Valley last week. Velazco was the first Ram to touch the state qualifying banner when, he was mobbed by teammates, eliciting a tremendous amount of joy and pride.
“We’ve been talking about it since the second half in Carroll. When he got taken out,” Roberts said following the Rams’ substate final win May 26. “We talked about every day, being able to have him pull up that banner at the end was just…
It’s really gonna be sad, going to state and not being able to play with (Luis),”
The recovery wasn’t a seamless one by any means. The Rams needed to figure out how to put goals on the board, and quickly. Roberts admits it was a bit of a learning process.
“We went through our own little dry spell of not scoring, but we worked on it every single day at practice,” Roberts said. “We pounded it really hard, and we put Chance McCollom at the top to help us with the offense. He’s been doing a pretty good job.
And we’ve been passing it out wide. The (defenses) focus their attention a little bit on the right side over on me and on Jose Velazco as well. So when we’re able to spread it out to Gesser as well, on the left side, then they end up paying for it like they have the past couple games.”
Another trip to state, though it ended with a 3-0 loss to three-time defending state champion Iowa City Regina in Tuesday’s first round, signifies Greene County’s place among Iowa’s elite. The torrid start isn’t a fluke, it’s a warning shot to the state’s top competitors.
Guys like Velazco, Roberts and Brenner Gallagher are a group of athletes who can say they not only helped start the Greene County soccer program back in 2018, but they are rightful owners to a pair of state banners as well. That’s pretty impressive, and deserving of recognition.
“We fought for so long to get a soccer program here and it is just unbelievable that we’re able to come back successful year after year and take it to state,” Roberts said. “(We proved) every body that thought we didn’t need a soccer program wrong.”
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