After the Western Hills boys soccer game concluded and players shook hands, head coach Daniel Cowan hugged each of their opponent’s, George Rogers Clark, players one by one. When asked if he knew some of the competition, the coach shook his head and said, “I know all of them.”
It was a matchup that Cowan called special on Tuesday night at Sower Soccer Field. Not only did Western Hills boys soccer team notch its sixth win of the season, but the team also defeated Cowan’s alma mater, George Rogers Clark, 3-0.
The coach’s connection to his team’s latest opponent runs deep, having played at GRC from 2000 to 2003 and the last two years, coaching the boys’ Junior Varsity team and the two years before, coaching the girls’ side.
“Those are my guys,” he said fondly. “This was my big game. This was my game that I had circled on my calendar forever. I developed those players. Some of them I have been coaching since they were 10 years old. It was fun.”
Although Cowan left GRC to accept his first head coaching title, he said the job still sticks with him today at WHHS.
“I learned how to relate to players there,” Cowan said. “You know, the game never changes. It is always the same no matter how old the players are, but I learned how to work with high school athletes.”
And while Cowan is different from most other coaches in how he sometimes sits on the bench with his players as if he’s waiting to go in and play himself, or in the way he jogs over to the student section personally asking for a little more noise — whatever he learned at GRC and brought with him to WHHS is working. WHHS’ record has six wins, no losses and a tie to a strong Mercer County team.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” Cowan said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start my head coaching career. I’ve been gifted with a very talented of guys, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
His cavalry of players include junior Elma Nfor, who Cowan said “had his best game of the season tonight.” Nfor connected with the back of the net for WHHS’ first score against GRC with 25:02 remaining in the half.
A few minutes after Nfor’s goal, GRC’s head coach Ian Collins called for a substitution of all his players currently on the field.
“He started off with his substitutes and when he made that substitution, he put his starters in,” Cowan said. “We talked about that at half time and we thought that was a lack of respect really. They weren’t taking us seriously.
“They play Lafayette tomorrow night and they were overlooking us. They probably shouldn’t have.”
But the substitution made no difference, because later in the first half Nfor drove to the goal and hit the ball in the left corner, giving the Wolverines a 2-0 lead against George Rogers Clark. It was his second goal of the night with 9:58 left.
Senior goalkeeper Will Davis made two saves in the half, including on a GRC penalty kick.
“It is really good for a coach to have a keeper like Will in the back, because even when things do break down, I feel like it is going to be OK, because he’s going to make the stop,” Cowan said.
In the second half, sophomore Keenan Jones assisted senior Adam Goss on a goal that gave the Wolverines a 3-0 lead and their final goal with 8:32 left in the game.
Cowan said his team delivered, playing the best they’ve played since the first game of the season against Oldham County where the Wolverines won 2-0.
“It was a lopsided score, but GRC is an excellent team,” Cowan said. “They are going to be a top 25 team by the end of the year.”
Thursday night, WHHS travels to play “another huge team” in West Jessamine. Win or lose, Cowan said he is a proud first-year head coach.
“I keep saying it, they have the potential to be one of those last four or five teams in the state,” he said. “They really are that good when they come out and play their game.”