It didn’t take long for Rusty Cox to see that his soccer team was going to be something special this year.
“I could see the kids really realized they had a special group about two or three days into two-a-days,” the Moffat County High School boys soccer coach said. “They started to believe that I thought they’d be good. Of course, I’ve known that for a while.”
Cox has helped coach the sophomores, juniors and seniors as he moved up the age groups since they were playing on small goals. The team and coach suffered through two losing seasons together. But, this year was a different story.
The Bulldogs put together the best season in 20 years of soccer at MCHS. The team finished second in the Western Slope League with an 11-5 record.
For the season, Cox was named the WSL Coach of the Year.
“I was surprised because the last two years, the team that won the league had the coach of the year,” he said. “I certainly don’t think about winning awards, but it’s an awesome honor that puts icing on the cake.”
Cox said he focused this year on keeping his talented team motivated.
“I know these kids and I know how they excel,” he said. “You have to keep on them and make them believe in themselves.”
“Keeping on them” included making sure they stayed focused in practice. When they weren’t, they knew the result.
“He would say, ‘I’m pissed, run the hill.’” junior Johnny Landa said. “That was probably his most famous saying.”
Cox laughed when he was told about Landa’s quote.
“The funny thing about that is they ran a lot less this year than the past,” he said. “It was nice because practice was actually productive.”
Moffat’s star forward, Tracy Mendoza, credited Cox with giving he and his teammates confidence.
“He didn’t let us think that we could be beat,” Mendoza said. “He kept us together and kept telling us how good we could be.”
Cox said the WSL coaches had similar sentiments at the league meeting.
“Coaches told me that our team used to be one that they didn’t fear too much,” he said. “But this year, they knew they had a battle when we came to town.”
Cox has known for a long time that his boys were going to be good once they caught up to the high school game. This year, he said one of the biggest challenges was to fight through the mentality of losing seasons.
“In the past, they went into games and I could tell they were mentally defeated before it started,” he said. “This year, we worked on going into every game with a mental edge.”
The mental edge may have cost them one game, he said.
“We went into the second Eagle Valley game (after winning the first 12-1) with too much confidence,” Cox said. “I told them we would face a different team, but I think their heads were too big.”
The Bulldogs lose four starters to graduation, but Cox thinks he has a strong enough nucleus returning next year to keep making some noise.
“This group of sophomores and juniors is the group that went undefeated for two years in league play,” he said. “We have a lot returning and I don’t think we will disappear again like some say.”