Editor's Note: “A Look at Times Gone By” is an in-depth look at weekly Times Gone By entries compiled since 2015. These articles will appear in each edition as local teams anticipate new seasons, whenever they should resume.
Jeremy Kies remembers coach Todd Wick making no promises about the first, second or third years of Blair High School soccer.
He was a realist. But during one of the first team meetings — before the program's 1991 debut — the coach made a statement that caught the underclassmen's attention.
“He says, in four years, 'I'll take you to the state tournament,'” Kies said Wednesday, the memories flooding back nearly 30 years later.
With that motivation, the Bears set out on their mission with Wick in charge of both the girls and boys teams. According to Enterprise Media Group archives, the Blair Community Schools teacher had several years of club coaching experience in Omaha, and two seasons worth with Ralston junior varsity teams, but was building two new soccer programs, essentially, from scratch.
“There was not a lot of soccer,” Derek Livermore recalled Wednesday.
Blair kids had the opportunity to play club growing up, but teams were largely coached by neighborhood dads with a focus on fun rather than intense competition. Molli (Kesling) Kies said her father Bill was one who helped lead the way. Ryan Wendt's dad, Kirby, was another.
“There was a lot of interest in Blair,” Livermore added.
But that interest needed to be molded. Newspaper articles from 1991 suggested that every member of BHS' boys team had organized soccer experience, but the girls had just five players with two years of experience or more.
“Some of the girls were just trying to learn footwork,” Molli Kies said.
In addition, the first Bear squads were young. Chip Smith was the boys' lone senior, while Brandy Allen and Molly Vinton were the only 12th-graders on the girls' roster.
Allen captained her team alongside Kies, a freshman, while Tadd Miller and Mike King led the boys.
Thankfully, both teams had Wick.
“He knew his soccer,” Livermore said. “That's for sure.”
Jeremy Kies, another 1991 freshman, said the coach built a defense that helped keep the Bears in games they really didn't have any business being in.
“(Wick) did phenomenal,” Molli Kies said, noting that assistant Mariann Andersen was learning on the job before taking over the following year.
As it turns out, though, everyone was going to take their lumps and learn during the first year of BHS soccer.
“(Wick) had a lot of building to do,” Brian Frost added.
2 wins between them
Both Blair teams started their first seasons with shutout losses before their season preview stories even made the pages of the Enterprise.
The boys would go onto play close matches, thanks to their defense, but lost all eight games out of the gate.
“We played it like it was rugby,” Jeremy Kies said of a soccer club that hadn't yet developed its skills.
The girls, meanwhile, faced the same struggles during an 0-8 start, though more of their games got out of hand on the scoreboard.
“It was crazy because it was all-class,” Molli Kies said, noting some of her team's competition from Omaha's largest schools.
The BHS boys scored the programs' first goals during their second match of the season against Platteview. Steve Cook's crossing pass was finished by Livermore for the school's very first score.
“We kind of had a little breakaway,” said the man who tallied it.
Frost would add another goal, but the Bears lost 3-2.
Meadow Rouse, meanwhile, scored the girls' first goal during an 8-1 loss to Omaha Roncalli.
Blair's newspaper noted a hat trick by Ryan Wendt during a 4-0 win against a team of Elkhorn reserves, but, otherwise, the soccer coverage relayed few highlights before district competition. That's when the Bears earned their first victories.
The girls routed Omaha South during the first round of the postseason, 4-0. Sunshine Scott scored the game's first goal just 3 minutes in before Rachel Wrightson, Nicki Hartvigsen and Margie Field added their own.
“They must have been so bad,” Molli Kies said of South with a laugh.
The boys, meanwhile, topped the Packers 2-0 for their first victory.
“We were really stoked,” Jeremy Kies added.
Joe Diggins and Frost notched the Bears' goals.
“Their goalie didn't stand a chance,” Wick told the Enterprise at the time.
Both Blair soccer seasons ended one game later, but nobody can take the first win away from Jeremey Kies and Davey Henley, who each played a half in goal against South. The freshman goalkeepers weren't in intense competition for all of the time. They were too close for that.
“He was a great guy,” Kies said.
Tragically, Henley died less than a year later in April 1992. His obituary stated that memorials were to go to Blair Little League, Blair Legion or the Blair High School sports department.
Kies, the keeper who had shared the net with Henley on the program's rise, gave up the position without his teammate.
“I couldn't fill his shoes,” he said Wednesday, his voice breaking.
A start for a championship program
The 1991 Blair soccer teams combined for just two victories and 18 losses.
“There was no big shining star,” Molli Kies said.
But there was a start. Livermore said Wendt stood out for his skills and Henley was an “outstanding goalkeeper.” Frost noted he was an “alright” midfielder, while Jeremy Kies said Cook was solid and “aggressive.”
And, ultimately, the players proved their coach right. Wick said the Bears could get to state in four years and they arrived in 1994 with a 17-1 record. They ended the year as Nebraska's runner-up.
The girls were 11-5 that year, too, with coach Andersen leading the way.
Then, not long after the Class of 1994's graduation, the BHS boys won their first state championship in 1998. A year later, both the girls and boys conquered Class B before coach Jon Small and the girls added another title in 2000.
Wick, meanwhile, was the head coach of both boys title teams. On Wednesday, Kies said Wick proved that BHS soccer was viable. It was a sport that has found a near 30-year home in Washington County.