Omaha South High boys soccer is good again. No news there. By now, it’s become a tradition. In a you-can’t-take-anything-for-granted world, few things have become more dependable in Omaha high school sports than this program competing for district and state honors. It’s not exactly a given but at this point the team is expected to win every time out no matter who they play, no matter how few returning starters there on the roster, no matter who’s injured. The 2017 team lacks experience and suffered some key injuries before the season even began and yet the expectations both inside and outside the program remain high. As in get-to-the-state-tournament and win- it-all high. South did it last year and a couple years before tha, toot. The Packers have been in the hunt for the title several other years. Coach Joe Maass has a full-blown dynasty on his hands and he’s trying to learn from the past to help keep his latest defending champion squad hungry and peaking at the right time. Here’s an El Perico story I wrote in late March laying out how Coach Maass sees his team shaping up.
New approach, same expectation for South soccer
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in El Perico
Lessons learned when Omaha South boys soccer won it all in 2013 inform the way coach Joe Maass does things now following last year’s second state title. He not only draws on that earlier experience but on a recent family challenge and the expertise of fellow coaches.
Heavy graduation losses from last year’s championship team have him invoking “a Bill Belichick approach.” he said, referring to the New England Patriots head coach. “The Patriots don’t always have the best players yet he’ll grab somebody’s second-team player or a late round draft pick and make them a fit for his system, We’ve focused a lot more on working hard in practice then maybe we did the year after we won it the first time.”
Hard work rubs off the youth on so many new faces.
“We feel like our talent level could drop off because we’re younger,” Maass said. “We only have four or five seniors, so we’ve had to just kind of bring a blue-collar mentality to it.”
He said his Packers reflect South Omaha’s personality.
“Blue-collar tough. That’s South Omaha to me. We’re not the biggest, but we’ll bang with you if you want.”
Attitude’s everything for this perennial power everyone wants to take down.
“These guys have to remember they play for South. Every team we play approaches it like the World Cup, so we can’t let up or coast. The fact we’re defending state champions just adds to it. The first time we won it we took it serious but I didn’t realize how serious it had to be. This time it’s been more of a business-like approach.”
Twin brothers Issac and Israel Cruz, along with Emilio Margarito, are top returnees who model high expectations.
“Those guys get it. The trick is getting some of the younger guys to. Like we’re starting a freshman and a sophomore. But a lot of new players are buying into the culture those older guys set. It’s good to see.”
Regarding the Cruz boys, he said, “They’ve been starting since their freshman year. They’ve always been leaders. Everyone respects them. It’s just how it is.
They set the standard.”
“Same thing for Emilio Margarito. He’s a team captain now.”
Maass believes in open competition at practice. Nobody’s spot is guaranteed.
“If they don’t work hard, they’ll be called out. Every day you’re competing.”
This year even more so because of injuries.
“There’s been a lot of attrition – more than we’ve had in years. One of the things we talk about is next man up.”
That mantra’s extended from preseason tryouts for open spots to now and it’s already paid dividends.
With returning goalkeeper Adrian Feliz out due to injury, his spot came down to two players until one quit. That gave the job to Jeramiah Gonzales, whose brilliant opening weekend performance included a shutout of Burke in his first career start, followed by five stops of penalty kicks in a shootout against South Sioux City.
“Extraordinary,” is how Maass described what Gonzales did. “I’ll probably never see it in my lifetime again.”
He said when Felix comes back, he won’t automatically step into the starter role. He’ll have to earn it.
“They will be competing every day.”
Since Maass adopted next-man-up as a team philosophy, he said, “it feels like things are working better – there’s a lot more team harmony.” He added, “Back in the day, with some hot shot kids who wanted to do things their way it caused problems. We might have won, but it wasn’t fun.”
Forward Jose Hernandez is another player who, Maass said, “gets it.” “He was promoted from the sophomore team to the varsity for the Tennessee (Smoky Mountain) tournament last year and he scored the goal that helped us beat one team. He scored the first goal at state last year coming off the bench. He knows this is what you have to do. It’s not how many minutes you get, it’s what you do with them.”
Now in his 18th year, Maass has learned patience.
“We tell our kids, ‘Don’t worry about the first few games, let’s worry about games 17-18.’ As long as we’re clicking at the end, it doesn’t even matter what we’re doing right now. We just have to figure each other out and get better every day.”
His own priorities got a reality check last year when his wife Ann, an ESL instructor at South, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Chemo treatments and a double mastectomy later, the cancer’s in remission.
“When it first hits you, your whole life just kind of spins.”
During Ann’s illness he took a more active hand in their two young children’s lives and extracurricular activities.
“I even contemplated stepping down as coach to be a better family man but at the end of the day we managed it, and here I am. I want to win games and championships but helping younger kids is probably more important after this.”
Having taken South soccer from the bottom to the top, he’s focused on maintaing excellence.
“I just want to keep it moving along.”
He readily acknowledges assistant coaches have helped South become a dynasty.
“I’m not afraid to go out and find someone who challenges me as a coach and who on top of that can run drills and do things at a higher level than myself.
“We evolve with every coach we bring in.”
By May, South aims to win its district, return to state and compete for another title. Packer coaches, players and fans expect it. But, Maass said, “the key is to get there.”
Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.
This is a piece I recently wrote about the father-son Nebraska high school boys basketball coaching duo of Bruce Chubick aI nd Bruce Chubick II at Omaha South.. The father is the head coach and the son is his top assistant. The story was published in El Perico newspaper before the team claimed a spot in the state tournament, where the Packers will try to repeat as Class A champions. Not surprisingly, these two men have a similar way of doing things. They’re both hard-nosed, straight-shooters who value work ethic above all else. The dad coached his son in high school. Bruce Jr. grew up around the game from the time he was a toddler and went on to be one of the better outstate prep players in Nebraska history before becoming a heavy contributor to some very good Husker teams. Ever since his dad, the venerable high school coach, took the job at South, Bruce Jr. has been assisting him. Last year they guided the Packers to the school’s first hoops title in a quarter century. Bruce Sr. said his son is one of the best players he’s ever coached and both father and son say their star player, Aguek Arop, is better than Bruce Jr. was at this same stage. Aguek led South to the title last year but he had an experienced team around him. All that experience graduated and this year he’s had to play with a bunch of varsity newcomers. That’s meant some growing pains. But that young talent has matured and Arop may be playing the best ball of his high school career. Opponents have to be concerned that the Packers have been on a roll since the beginning of February and appear to be peaking at just the right time. Whatever happens, the father and son will approach things the Chubick Way.
The Chubick Way comes full circle with father-son coaching tandem at Omaha South
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in El Perico
Things have come full circle for a father-son coaching duo.
Omaha South head basketball coach Bruce Chubick I guided South to its first state Class A hoops title in a quarter century last year with help from assistant Bruce Chubick II. Thirty years ago the father coached the son to Atkinson-West Holt’s Class C-1 state title. Considered among the state best small school players in history, the 6-7 son played four seasons at Nebraska and eight more professionally.
Today, the Chubicks coach 6-6 senior Aguek Arop, who they feel has a huge future. In 40-plus years, Chubick I can count on one hand his elite players. Since 2013 he’s had one beside him on the bench and another performing for him on the court. Just as Bruce Jr. pursued hoops dreams, Arop, a former Nebraska commit, may be off to prep school to eventually pursue Division I and pro careers.
But first they hope to land in Lincoln for another state title run.
“Little” Bruce grew up around hoops. “We kind of knew from the get-go he was special,” his dad said. Before ever suiting up for his father, the two made a pact. “We agreed when he’s on the court he’s just another player and I’m just another coach, and off the court there was not going to be any critiquing of what went on during practices or games.”
“If anything, he was probably harder on me than he was on the other players,” Chubick II said, “but I knew the reason why – he expected more. I’d been around the game longer. There were some days I didn’t like what he said to me, but I understood the reason.”
Coaching together is special.
“How many people get to say they had a chance to coach with their dad? That’s a great thing. I’ve been approached by a few schools about coaching them and I said, ‘I made my dad a promise that until he’s done, I’m here.’ Philosophically we’re pretty close. He listens but he doesn’t miss a whole lot. With his experience he sees a lot more than I do. He’s got so much knowledge.”
At 65, Chubick I is the metro’s oldest coach. Even after surviving a heart attack and winning it all he returned this year because he promised his star, Arop, he’d see him through his high school career.
Forget about the senior Chuibck being too old.
“What he’s teaching still works. He’s adapted his style to match the times,” said the son who reminds his excitable dad to ease down.
“There are times when he has to get after these guys and I’m like, ‘Maybe we need to back down about one click because I don’t want to try out my CPR skills right now.’ But he’s fine. Stress is something that concerns me. Hopefully, we assistants help ease some of that. I’ve taken a lot more responsibility.”
Besides, with South an annual contender, it’s no time to retire.
“We’ve kind of built something here and it’s fun to see. He thought about hanging it up a few years ago. He said, ‘If I stop, what do I do?’ and I said, ‘Exactly As long as you feel you’ve got something to give the school and your energy and health is there, why would you stop?’ He’s earned the right to be able to stay in it until he feels like he can’t or doesn’t want to.”
Chubick I confirms “I still like being around the kids.”
Meanwhile, a player they both admire, Arop, reigning Nebraska Player of the Year and sure-fire bet to be 1st team all-state again, has carried more of the load after South graduated a talented senior class.
“He’s been pretty patient with going from one of the best teams in the history of the state to playing with a bunch of inexperienced guys,” Chubick I said. “If I was in his position, I think I would have been in people’s butts. He’s just not that way.”
Despite his star lacking a supporting cast like last season’s 28-1 squad, the head coach said his team’s gelled after a mid-schedule lull.
“They’re coming around. I said at the beginning of the year if we won 14 or 15 and made it to Lincoln that’d be a heckuva year. We’re right there. I think that’s what’s going to happen.”
If they make it, the Packers will go as far as the shy Arop carries them.
“I think he knows if he doesn’t we’re not going to reach our potential,
Chubick I said.” He has to step up and show leadership. It can’t all come from the bench.”
Chubick II sees Arop doing well post-South. Several colleges are eying him.
“His work ethic’s great. Skills-wise, he’s ahead of where I was, no question. His ceiling is not anywhere close to where he’s at right now.”
Chubick I sees a player “cut out of the same fabric” as his son.
“I don’t know if Aguek’s quite as hardcore, but he’s got that same drive.
His motor runs hot all the time. He plays both ends of the court. He’s a team player. Aguek’s a winner.”
It takes two to know one.