Courtesy of the Western Athletic Conference
Not only did Dodge City capture the 2019 Western Athletic Conference boys soccer title, but the Red Demons led the way on the all-WAC team with three first-team selections, highlighted by junior Alan Lopez’ being tabbed as the WAC Player of the Year.
In addition, the Red Demons had three second-team picks while Saul Hernandez was named Coach of the Year following the team’s 7-1-0 league record and then placing third in the Class 6A state tournament to complete a 17-4-0 season record.
Liberal, too, the league’s runner-up, placed three on the first-team and two on the second while third-place Garden City had two on the first and two on the second quad. Great Bend had two apiece on each of the two teams. Hays rounded out the first team with one pick and two on the second team.
Players are chosen by a vote of the five league coaches, who cannot vote for one of their own players.
In his freshman season of playing soccer at Dodge City High School, Alan Lopez and his Red Demon teammates advanced to the 2017 Class 6A Final Four, only to fall short in both the semifinals and consolation games to come home empty-handed.
During his junior campaign, Lopez was bound and determined to see his teammates take the next step to bring a trophy home.
He and his Red Demon squad accomplished that on Saturday, Nov. 9, with a 4-0 victory over Wichita East to bring home the third-place trophy at the Class 6A state tourney in Topeka. That followed a heartbreaking 1-0 semifinal loss to the state’s top-ranked team in Olathe West.
The state performance capped off a brilliant 17-4-1 season record for the Red Demons and Lopez, who also captured the Western Athletic Conference team title on the final game of the regular season with a victory over rival Liberal.
Lopez, a junior striker/wing performer, was named the WAC’s Player of the Year for his outstanding performance through the 2019 campaign. He totaled 23 goals and 9 assists to pace the Demons’ offensive attack.
“I was excited to hear about being named Player of the Year,” Lopez said. “I’m happy to get that, but more importantly I think it reflects my contribution to the team, and how my teammates made me a better player, too.”
Lopez said the Demons got off to a slow start early in the season, losing to Wichita Heights in overtime at the Wichita South Titan Classic. They also lost to Liberal, 3-1, on their home turf in mid-September before suffering their third loss in mid-October to Class 5A power St. Thomas Aquinas.
Down the stretch, the Demons and Liberal were neck-and-neck in the WAC race, and the title game came on the final match of the season at Liberal, where Lopez and his teammates prevailed 2-0.
“It was a big game because they had beaten us earlier in the year, and they also had beaten us for the WAC title in 2018, so to win that game and the league was huge for us,” Lopez said. “Everything was really intense and it was a great game for us to win.”
The 13-3-1 regular season mark put the Demons in the No. 3 seed for the Class 6A postseason and they began their tournament run with a 10-0 romp over Hutchinson, followed by a 2-0 triumph over Wichita Southeast to reach the quarterfinals.
There, the Demons hosted the same Wichita Heights squad that they had lost to earlier in the season and this time came away with a 3-0 shutout of the Falcons to advance to the state semifinals in Topeka.
“The playoff run was really good for us as I think we showed we can play with any team in the state,” Lopez said. “Olathe West is a really good team and you can’t make mistakes in that type of game. We had our chances, but just couldn’t get a score, but I know we played with a lot of energy and worked so hard to win the game.”
Dodge City head coach Saul Hernandez had high praise for his junior striker and is excited to have him for one more season.
“Alan is best at the striker position, but often time teams would mark him so we would move him to the wing to confuse the defense,” Hernandez said. “He’s our first defender when we lose the ball, and he’s almost always the first one to get to the ball and set the tone for the mid-fielders.”
Lopez, too, says he’s probably better at the striker position, but says playing on the wings also works to his strength.
“On the wing, we use the width of the field to play down the side of the line and take advantage of our speed and passing ability,” Lopez said.
A second-team Class 6A all-state in 2018 as voted on by the Kansas Soccer Coaches Association, Lopez has high hopes of being a first-teamer this season and then try to help his team win a state title in 2020.
He hopes to play at the college level after graduation in 2020, and has expressed an interest in pursuing a degree in business and/or accounting.
Hernandez said one of Lopez’ greatest assets is off the field, where he helps mentor the freshmen and volunteers to help pick up after practices and games to set an example for the younger players.
“You couldn’t ask for a better example of leadership,” Hernandez said.
Lopez and his Red Demon teammates finished the season with a stellar 17-4-0 record, going 7-1-0 in the WAC. He was joined on the all-WAC team by teammates senior Diego Olivares and junior Erik Martinez; three Liberal players – seniors Victor Limon and Levi Flores and junior AJ Ramirez; Garden City juniors Moses Lares and Jairo Carillo; Great Bend seniors Israel Franco Jr. and Jesus Sanchez and Hays’ Mathew Goddale, a senior.
Coach of the Year honors went to Dodge City’s Hernandez.