DES MOINES, Iowa – Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 – For the Des Moines Menace Academy’s oldest boys team, “State Cup champions” is a satisfying title that comes at the end of a long, steady journey.
The Menace Academy U18 boys shook off their underdog status to become the 2012 Iowa Soccer Association State Cup champions – living up to the potential Tomas Boltnar saw in them when he became their coach five years ago.
They clinched the state title on Sunday, topping CRSA/ISC/Iowa City Alliance, 1-0, at Cownie Soccer Park. Carlos Smith scored the game-winner in the 62nd minute, when he headed in the rebound from a Carlos Palacios free kick that bounced off the cross bar.
“It feels great – A long time coming for them. They’ve been working at it for years,” said Boltnar. “A great accomplishment and a lifetime memory for the players and their parents. I couldn’t be happier for them.”
This is a crowning achievement for a team that in some years lost more games than it won. The players’ dedication paid dividends, with a perfect send-off that ensures they’ll get to continue their club careers in next summer’s regionals of the U.S. Youth Soccer Association Championship Series – back at Cownie Soccer Park.
To reach the final, the eventual champions got past CRSA/ISC (4-1 on Oct. 21) and the Iowa Rush (2-0 on Oct. 27). They came with a balanced attack: their seven tournament goals coming from five different scorers. Their defense allowed just one goal, with goalkeepers Gannon Harsma and Arnoldo Valadez splitting time between the pipes in each match.
“We’ve been playing really well against good teams this year,” said Boltnar, the organization’s most tenured coach and most celebrated former player. “It was truly everyone stepping in. Everybody did what we asked them to do.”
Many of the players have been together since their middle-school days.
“In all the years we’ve been in it, we’ve become a family,” said Haris Miftari, whose father (Rafet, assistant coach) and twin brother (Edis) are also longtime members of this team. “We’ve fought for each other. We’ve helped each other. It feels pretty good to bring it under our name – to finally get one.”
Haris Miftari captains the team, alongside Joe Arreola and Matt Olson.
“Seeing us progress through the years, to come together and get better each year, it means a lot to be state champs,” said Arreola. “I’m really proud of the team. The results weren’t always there, but we stuck together.”
Arreola has been with the Menace’s youth programs longer than any player to date. By his memory, he joined Junior Menace when he was six or seven years old. He started with Menace Academy as a U11.
The championship is a high point in Arreola’s comeback story. In June 2011, he was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy, a protein disorder that inflames and damages the kidneys. This disorder, along with bad side effects from his medications, weakened and sidelined Arreola. He even considered quitting the game he loves.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve done in my life,” said Arreola, who says he’s playing at full strength today. “I had to work hard. This season, I was coming back from not playing at all. My teammates really pushed me hard. I thank the team so much. Team is the most important thing.”
Arreola also wanted to thank two coaches who have made a positive difference in his recovery.
“Neathan (Gibson) and Tomas were both there for me, helping me with my confidence. They were there for me when I needed it,” Arreola said. “Tomas is always there for our team. He never gave up on us. He always pushes our work ethic, pushes us to be better players…and better people.”
Cole Van Lent
Team Manager: Diane Hemann
Coach: Tomas Boltnar
Assistant Coach: Rafet Miftari
ABOUT THE MENACE ACADEMY: The Des Moines Menace Youth Soccer Academy provides a fun and challenging soccer environment that allows players to grow as people and reach the best of their soccer abilities. The academy includes boys and girls teams ranging in age from U9 to U18. Players are from all over the Des Moines metro area, coming from diverse backgrounds. Academy members develop by learning skills and strategies at age-appropriate levels. Youth are exposed to the very best coaching and training on a consistent basis as they grow and mature.
The non-profit Menace Academy is part of the Des Moines Menace – Iowa’s premier men’s and women’s teams. The Menace promotes healthy lifestyles through popular youth programs that also include Junior Menace, camps, clinics and tournaments.