PLANE — It’s something of a riddle. It’s the one place that Tex McCullough wants to go to more than anything, and it’s also the one place he refuses to go to.
McCullough, Plano’s boys soccer coach and an alum of the program, had been invited by his high school coach, Bob Weir, to the state tournament in Georgetown five years ago. Weir won six state titles and over 500 games at Plano and still attends the tournament each year in retirement.
Now in his eighth year as Plano’s head coach, McCullough never won a state title as a player and, until this season, had never won a playoff game as head coach.
“Coach Weir, this is fun for you,” McCullough told his former coach. “You won like six of these, I’m not coming back unless we go [as a team]. I just couldn’t stand it. Being at a state tournament infuriated me as a competitor.”
But after Plano beat top-ranked Keller in the 6A Region I championship on Saturday to advance to its first state tournament since 2009, McCullough texted Weir.
“We’ll go now,” McCullough said.
After a decade-long playoff win drought, Plano (18-4-4) has its eyes set on a seventh state title. Its six state titles (five from 1990 to 2000, and another in 2009) are already a state record. The District 6-6A champions will play Katy Seven Lakes in the state semifinals on Friday at 7:30 pm
It’s a chance for the players to return Plane to its glory days.
And, for the homegrown coach, it’s a chance to capture the dragon he’s been chasing.
“I tell the kids, this is my ultimate dream,” McCullough said. “To win Plano a state championship.”
The chase for a title
If North Texas — which has accounted for 11 boys soccer state titles since 2010 — is a statewide hotbed for the sport, then Plano can claim to be the godfather of it all.
Its soccer program began five years before the UIL officially sanctioned it as a sport in 1982, and both the school’s boys and girls teams won a combined eight state titles before the turn of the century.
“It was an honor to be a part of those programs, and we wanted to do the best for the school,” said Weir, who retired in 2012. “As a coach, I wanted to have a program similar to football and basketball and the girls sports. Everything just came at the right time; we had excellent players and a pretty strong coaching staff.”
Nine years passed between the program’s fifth and sixth titles, from 2000 to 2009, as Plano West won two championships in that span. But Plano’s grip on dominance loosened in the 2010′s. Frisco Wakeland established itself as North Texas’ boys soccer power and won four state titles from 2017-21, while Plano went 10 consecutive seasons without a playoff win, from 2011-21.
“Plano always has a winning tradition, we’re expected to win whenever we get out there,” senior goalkeeper Henry Huffstetler said. “I know the past few years we haven’t been the best team, but it feels good to be back on top, back in that state tournament.”
Said defend Corbin Quintero: “We want to build that reputation up again. We want people to fear playing Plano.”
After winning its district championship, Plano won its bi-district game against Denton Guyer on penalty kicks. It beat Lake Highlands 2-0 in the area round, then needed penalty kicks again to dispatch Allen in the third round. A win over El Paso Eastlake in the regional semifinals advanced Plano to play top-ranked Keller.
Flat won, 2-1, in overtime. Huffstetler saved his fifth penalty kick of the tournament in overtime, and senior Christian Cifuentes scored his third goal of the playoffs with under two minutes left in the first extra time period.
Huffstetler recorded 10 shutouts in the regular season and has two in the playoffs. McCullough credited Saturday’s overtime momentum swing to his penalty kick save.
“You have fun playing the game, and you also have fun watching him,” said Nolan Giles, the team’s leading scorer with 15 goals. “It’s like a two-for-one.”
Of the three Dallas-area boys soccer teams that advanced to the state tournament, Plano is the only one unranked on The Dallas Morning News’ area poll. Both Allen and Keller are area-ranked teams, while El Paso Eastlake is ranked sixth in the state by MaxPreps’ formula.
“You see these predictions or what people have to say pregame,” Quintero said. “But we go out, we do our job and we win. We knew we could do it.”
Katy Seven Lakes (20-1-3) is ranked fourth by MaxPreps.
“I tell them every game, ‘You play with no fear, and you play with no doubt.’” McCullough said. “We believe we’re going to win… We have no fear of anybody. We respect them, but we are there to win. They’re not scared, they know that there are some good teams, but my team is not scared.
“I tell them, ‘Guys, if they lose, they better know who they played.’”
McCullough liked his team to Plano’s boys basketball team, which went 32-0 in the regular season and won its district for the first time since 2006.
Unexpected externally? Sure. But internally?
“There’s two people that did expect us to be where we are,” McCullough said. “That was [boys basketball] coach [Dean] Christian and me.”
As McCullough spoke to The News on Tuesday, Christian passed through Plano’s indoor practice facility.
“Dare to be great, coach,” Christian yelled. “Dare to be great, baby.”
McCullough smiled and waved at his winter-season counterpart.
“It took a while to get that spirit back,” McCullough said. “But I know one thing that gets that spirit back, and that’s winning.”
return to glory
Defeat just doesn’t sit well with McCullough. It’s why he’d refuse to attend the state tournament if it wasn’t with a team he was leading.
“Why can’t we be here?” he’d think to himself as postseason success eluded him in his first seven years as coach.
“There were times I was beat down too, man,” said McCullough, who played college soccer at Michigan and Midwestern State. “Losing is not in my DNA.”
McCullough — the son of Jaydon McCullough, Plano’s former football and JV soccer coach, and nephew of Joey McCullough, Plano East’s former football coach — may very well have coaching in his blood. But he was 24-year-old when Plano named him head coach, and while he knew soccer, even he admittedly had to learn how to coach.
“When I first got the job, to be honest, I didn’t really know what to do,” McCullough said. “I had never dealt with parents, team meetings. I hadn’t done booster club, scheduling, uniforms. My head was spinning the first two years.”
McCullough eventually questioned whether or not he was cut out for the job. He’s since shaken those thoughts. Sure, winning cures all, but he’s also learned to pay closer attention to details, how to plan a practice, how to scout, when to push his team and when to lay off them.
It comes with time. Time, and patience. As McCullough says, “you’ve got to learn from butt kicking.”
Weir understands that well. As he reflected on McCullough’s disinterest in attending the state tournament as a fan, he thought back to his own.
“I was asking myself, ‘Why can’t I get my program down here?’” Weir said of his first few trips to the state tournament. He had attended the championship games in the 1980′s, when Plano’s girls team won in 1986, 1988 and 1989.
“It took a few more years, but just like Tex felt, I wanted to get my team down here.”
Weir did six times. He’ll now watch with pride this weekend as two of his former players — McCullough and Steve McBride, Grapevine’s girls soccer coach — will contend for state titles.
Whether or not either will be there next year, Weir still will be.
It’s possible McCullough will, too.
“I have that dream of winning it,” McCullough said. “Hopefully we can make it come true.”
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