Fulton’s Mike Menchaca is the epitome of a coach who is out for their players. He helped lead his team to a regional final game this year and has earned the 2019 Clinton Herald Coach of the Year.
It was a year of ups and downs for the Steamers, who ended up 10-21 overall, 2-7 in the conference. The numbers might not look great, but it was a big learning year.
All but one of the Steamers on the varsity roster are returning next year, leaving the door open for a big 2019-2020. Menchaca is nurturing his young team and he saw a glimpse of what they’re capable of in postseason play.
“He pushed us this year to see what we could do,” senior Rylee Leitzen said. “That helped lead us to the regional championship game against Sherrard.”
Coming into the regional tournament with not much to show in the win column, the Steamers took down No. 2 Bureau Valley in an unprecedented upset. They fell in the regional final, but made some noise all the while.
After the game the Clinton Herald found an emotional Menchaca, holding back tears. He had been confident in his team the entire time, based on what he had coached them to do.
"We talk about our inner circle, we don't care about records or other outside things," Menchaca said after their regional win. "We care what we are doing in practice and in the locker room and knew that it would pay off in the long run and we just had to stay focused."
The girls are very aware of it as well. When asked, they all had similar answers when talking about Menchaca and that is that he cares more about the players than the wins and losses.
“Coach always cared more about personal character and values more than he cared about the outcome of the game,” junior Kylie Sweenie said.
“Coach cares about the culture of our program and always wants what’s best for us,” sophomore Liz Fish said.
The Fulton girls are obviously a close knit bunch who can be seen together at various school activities. Menchaca has created a culture of family and preaches that.
“Coach really values family and how our character is on and off the court,” junior Kearston Norman said.
Plus, Menchaca is doing his best to ensure that the Steamers have a fabulous prep experience. This year, he worked it out to play East Dubuque at the United Center in Chicago, an experience the athletes won’t soon be forgetting.
At the time it was announced, Menchaca talked about the experience he wanted his girls to have.
"For these players, with what they've done and how far they've come as a group, it's nice to give them something like this to remember from Fulton. "
And from the looks on their faces and their emotions after the game, he definitely exceed that. The community followed the Steamers and had a huge showing at the UC, one of the biggest of all time.
It’s obvious Menchaca is out there working for his players. He’s backed by a community who works for them, too.
“When you worry about selling 300 tickets just so you can get there but turn around and sell 525 of them, that’s all you need to know about the community,” Menchaca said. “The experience itself, the kids took to it.”
The Fulton girls had a year like no other, and are setting themselves up for a big year next season. That’s a lot thanks to the time Menchaca has put into the program.
“Coach has been a great asset to our team over his six years of being coach,” senior Rylee Leitzen said. “He has helped our team grow and overcome a lot.”