Adna soccer coach Horst Malunat has taught at Toledo High School for years. He coached the boys and girls program for over a decade. Malunat was even one of the best men at current Toledo coach Noel Vazquez’s wedding two years ago.
When Adna and Toledo match up this Friday with a spot in the state title game on the line, it’ll be more than an ordinary Class 2B State semifinal.
“It’s quite a pleasure and a privilege to coach against someone I look up to,” Vazquez said. “He took me under his wing, and I learned a lot about the high school coaching world from him.”
Though they didn’t play during the regular season this year, both Vazquez and Malunat are very familiar with their opponent this weekend.
At 21-years-old, Vazquez applied to be an assistant soccer coach under Malunat at Toledo, who was coming off his 13th year leading a now-revitalized program. Malunat, looking for a new challenge, ended up taking on a new challenge in 2015, deciding to build up the program over at Centralia College and left the Toledo girls program in the hands of a young, but hungry Vazquez.
It made Vazquez one of the youngest head coaches of any high school sport in Washington state history.
“That happened to be the beginning of my coaching career,” Vazquez said. “By no means did I think I was going to be this successful or know what I was getting into. If it wasn’t for (Malunat) bringing me under his coaching staff at Centralia and helping at the college, I would have struggled a lot more to understand the process of coaching at the high school level.”
Vazquez still ended up working under Malunat, but at Centralia College as a goalkeeping coach, and helping with the Toledo-Winlock United boys team when he had time.
Two years ago, when Vazquez got married pre-pandemic, Malunat was there. These coaches know each other well, and know exactly what their teams want to do.
“We go back quite a few years,” Vazquez said. “It’s a meaningful game because he’s someone I learned quite a few things from.”
Malunat, who re-entered the coaching ranks after a year-long hiatus spring of last year, still teaches at Toledo. Almost every day, Vazquez sees Malunat leaving the school to go lead Adna practice while Vazquez leads some of Malunat’s students at Toledo.
And both squads have had different paths to success this season.
The Pirates, who were seeded eighth in the state tournament after finishing runners-up in District 4, snuck past Cle Elum-Roslyn in the opening round, 1-0, before cleanly defeating No. 1 Okanogan, 3-1 last weekend.
“The girls have worked hard and they earned it,” Malunat said. “If they play the way they played against Okanogan, we’re going to be a tough out.”
The Riverhawks, meanwhile, have had to grit out several wins to get to their first ever state semifinal appearance.
Following a 1-0 win over No. 12 Friday Harbor in the first round, Toledo overcame a two-goal deficit to avenge their 2019 loss to Mount Vernon Christian, 3-2, last weekend.
“That group that he has is pretty good,” Malunat said. “They’re gritty and they’ve battled and done well. This is the furthest they’ve gone in school history, so hats off to that, and I frankly couldn’t do that at the 1A level. They’ve grinded their way out to wins.”
But when the two teams meet in the semifinals this Friday at Sunset Chevy Stadium in Sumner at 4 p.m., the two long-time friends and close programs know what's at stake.
For Adna, it would be its first state title appearance in program history. Though the Pirates have made the state semifinals five years in a row, they’ve lost each time.
For the Riverhawks, it’ll be about continuing what has already been a historic season for a strong group of seniors.
What’s clear, though, is the amount of respect both Malunat and Vazquez have for one another and their programs. These coaches know full well what they’re facing on Friday.
“It’s pure heart, more than anything,” Vazquez said of his team’s run. “It’s pure effort and will to keep moving forward. Those girls really care about each other and really care about representing their school and their program. We know that we’re going to go in there and compete, even if we go down in score, we’ve proved it’s not impossible to overcome those deficits.”
For the Pirates, it’s all about taking all their momentum and bottling it up into one last push for a program first.
“Do we have enough gas in the tank and enough juice to keep going? That’s the question,” Malunat said.
No matter the outcome on Friday, it's safe to assume each coach will root for the other in the state title come Saturday, as both schools eye their first ever state title.