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It was inevitable, so Jiri Kubicek decided not to delay his decision to retire any longer.
“Being in this business for 32 years, it was probably going to be only another year. It’s the right time,” he said.
And with that, the one of the longest-tenured coaches in the history of Los Alamos High School decided to retire.
Kubicek has put on his whistle for the last time as the head coach of the Los Alamos Hiltopper girls soccer team for the last time. He officially vacated his position Saturday, a position he’s held since 1991.
During that time, he helped cement the Hilltoppers’ place as one of the top programs in the state. He guided the program to a nearly .700 winning percentage over a 23-year career and two state championships.
One of the sweetest memories Kubicek said he had during his career was when his daughter, Jessica, knocked in the winning goal to upset the Albuquerque Academy Chargers for the 2003 state title.
Jessica Kubicek, an all-state performer for the Hilltoppers on defense, capped off what had been a remarkable run in the state playoffs, made all the more impressive by the fact Los Alamos struggled most of that season and was lightly regarded heading into the postseason.
“We were just .500 that year,” said coach Kubicek. “But we had a lot of injuries. Right before the playoffs, a lot of kids came back, and we beat Farmington.”
Farmington was among the top teams in the state heading into that contest, while Los Alamos just snuck into the playoffs that season after finishing as a runner-up in the District 2-4A race, but the Hilltoppers pulled off an impressive 3-0 victory in that first round contest to kick off their championship run.
Kubicek, now 62, said he doesn’t have any specific plans about what he wants to do during his retirement from soccer, although he said he will help coach at the youth level.
This past season was a rough one for Los Alamos. It managed just a 10-11 season record and was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by Piedra Vista, the first time since moving up to Class 4A in 2000 that the Hilltoppers failed to get to at least the state semifinals.
In fact, Los Alamos has been to the state championship game 10 times in 23 years with Kubicek at the helm. It made it to the state title game three years in a row, 2008-2010 and four years out of five, but would fall short of the crown.
“We were so close several times, but we’d lose, like 1-0,” he said. “But those were great years I had there.”
Most frustrating, perhaps, were those three straight trips to the title game with one of the most productive offenses in the state, but in those three championship games, the Hilltoppers managed just two total goals against Academy’s Chargers, whose five-year state championship streak was finally snapped in 2013 by another of Los Alamos’ arch-enemies, St. Pius X.
Kubicek’s final numbers are impressive. He went 332-143 in his career and was named Coach of the Year twice, along with helping mold some of the top talent that has come through Los Alamos.
He said the school and the community have been very good to him since he immigrated to the United States in the 1980s and started his coaching career as an assistant to Vic Dalla Beta, one of only two coaches in school history to grab state boys soccer title.
When Kubicek started in 1991, he inherited a program that hadn’t made the playoffs in its three previous seasons. In 23 years at the helm, Kubicek only failed to guide the team to the playoffs twice.
While the Hilltoppers’ lackluster 2013 season may seem like — and may yet prove to be — nothing more than an anomaly, that may also be the symptom of a larger issue, Kubicek said.
Participation is girls soccer at the high school has been in decline for the past several seasons, and there was serious talk two years ago about eliminating the school’s C team, a step the boys soccer program ultimately had to take.
Kubicek thinks it’s entirely possible there will be no C team girls soccer next year, a situation that was virtually unimaginable 10 years ago.
In fact, part of the reason he’s interested in coaching at the youth level is to try to help develop interest in girls soccer and cultivate the talent that’s coming up.
“All sports are hurting with numbers,” he said of LAHS sports except for cross country, which seems to have an inexhaustible well of talent. “Over 40 percent of the kids are involved in programs, but do we have the quality? Those high-level kids? It’s a focus, but not like the big schools in Albuquerque.
“It’s time somebody else stepped up, bring in some new ideas, a new vision,” he said.