Those within the Hastings community will tell you it was a great day to be a Bronco.

That day was Dec. 3, 2016.

The men's soccer team was aiming for a second NAIA national title in Delray Beach, Florida. Lucas Venegas scored on a feed from Eric Birighitti in the 57th minute and the Broncos held on for a 1-0 victory against Rio Grande (Ohio).

The Broncos celebrated under the lights in Delray Beach. As soon as they got on the bus, players pulled out their phones and began watching the live stream of another event.

That evening, in Sioux City, Iowa, the Hastings volleyball team was playing Dordt for a national championship. The Broncos found themselves down two sets, but the soccer players — nearly 1,700 miles away — kept watching. Their postgame meal was ready, but the soccer players huddled outside the restaurant to watch the volleyball team stage a late rally.

"You could hear them all erupt after the final point," Hastings men's soccer coach Aaron Champenoy said of his team. "It was a pretty special moment, because you could just feel the comradery and the family environment, not just within our team but within the athletic program."

In a matter of hours, two Hastings programs won national championships. A great day to be a Bronco was uttered many times.

After leading their respective teams to national crowns, Champenoy and Hastings volleyball coach Matt Buttermore are the 2016-17 Journal Star State College Co-Coaches of the Year.

Because there was some overlap in the two national championship contests, Buttermore said the volleyball team didn't know the soccer team had won a national title until the postmatch interviews.

"There was a cool buzz going around school there for a while," he said.

Buttermore, in his fifth season at the school, saw a determined bunch following the prior season. It was 2015 when the Broncos won the first two sets against Georgetown (Kentucky) in a Round of 12 match at the NAIA Tournament. Georgetown rallied for a 3-2 victory.

"We knew we had the talent to (win in 2015)," Buttermore said. "More importantly, the girls knew it, too. They were ready for the national tournament starting Jan. 1 of (2016)."

Led by All-Americans Katie Placke, Logan Drueppel and Jill Bax, the Broncos swept the Great Plains Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament championships. From there, the Broncos made an impressive run through the NAIA Tournament, capping a 33-3 season with the program's first national title.

"That team was always very talented and last season they learned how to compete together consistently," said Buttermore, who is 128-43 at Hastings. "A lot of it with that team was mental."

Buttermore, who is married to former Husker Laura Pilakowski (she is the team's strength coach), has spent five seasons building Hastings into a national power. Champenoy, meanwhile, was asked to come in and maintain another.

Champenoy's predecessor was Chris Kranjc, who led Hastings to 16 GPAC championships and the 2011 national title.

Champenoy, an Omaha native, had been watching Hastings' rise as a soccer program, even when he was coaching at Saint Thomas (Texas). So when Kranjc announced he was stepping down after the 2015 season to take a job at NCAA Division II Alabama-Huntsville, Champenoy saw an opportunity to come back to Nebraska. So much so, that he sent his resume to Hastings before the job was event posted.

The former Bellevue University player remembers playing against the Broncos in college when Hastings played its games on a high school field. Then he watched the program's growth under Kranjc.

"I knew with the facilities and the tradition and the work Chris had done with the program, it was somewhere that I felt I could be successful with my philosophies," Champenoy said.

Champenoy was asked to build the Saint Thomas program from scratch. With Hastings, he saw an intriguing challenge. Champenoy had to maintain a high level of excellence. More importantly, he had to get the players to buy into his coaching style.

"I knew that we could be successful," Champenoy said. "I knew we could be a good team. But it was going to take a lot of work by the guys to accept a new coach and new way of doing things. It was going to take a little bit of compromise and effort from all sides, coaching staff, all the way through.

"Things came together as perfectly as they could of."

The Broncos swept the GPAC regular season and tournament titles, and finished 24-0-1.

It wasn't easy.

Hastings needed a 5-4 edge in penalty kicks to outlast Marymount California in the second round of the NAIA Tournament. It needed overtime to advance in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds.

"The guys never panicked," Champenoy said. "There was kind of this calm determination. I think, honestly, we felt like we were the most prepared team at the tournament."

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsCG.


Sports editor

Clark Grell is sports editor.

Load comments