By Kyle Daubs
Paul Stranz never slept well the night before playing Mattoon.
The longtime Charleston High School soccer coach, at Charleston from 2000-14, had been an assistant when current Green Wave coach Ryan Ghere began his head coaching career in 1998.
When Stranz took over Charleston’s program in 2000, the Trojans were on their way to their first appearance in the state tournament while Mattoon was still building its program.
It didn’t matter if it was a four-win squad or a 17-win team, Stranz would find his mind racing around his regular 4 a.m. wakeup time.
“I’d wake up and start thinking we could do this and that,” said Stranz. “How we were going to counter because he always had teams that did a great job on set plays and corner kicks. It felt like we were always running after them. I never got a good night’s sleep before a Mattoon game.”
Stranz’s Charleston teams got the best of Mattoon most of the time during the 2000s, but Ghere was able to steal an Elite 8 appearance in 2003. The two teams squared off in the Sectional Championship where the Green Wave upset the Trojans to qualify for the state tournament for the first time in school history.
However, Stranz remembers the first season when the Wave finished 4-17-0 and how Ghere still had the Green Wave excited to take on a future state qualifier in the Trojans.
“He would get them ready to play us even when those first years weren’t very good,” said Stranz. “You could never take them lightly.”
That made for a fun matchup between the two competitive coaches. Often, you could see, or rather hear, both in the moment. With both being known for their “louder” side, it was an intense game on the field.
“We loved playing them because you’d often forget the records,” said Stranz. “It was very competitive. I’ve mentioned before that I felt like we both had similar coaching styles. We were both very vocal on the field and our voice often carries. Once you got off of the field, we had the utmost respect for each other.”
Stranz said what he respected the most is how Ghere often fought for postseason recognition for players in the area to make the All-Sectional list.
“When I was the coordinator for the coaches association, he always supported the teams around him,” said Stranz. “When you are going up against Chicago schools, it’s hard to get some recognition, but he always supported each other’s teams. When we went to those meetings, it always felt like we had each other’s back.”
The soccer program in Mattoon has been around for 37 years, but, when it came to the difference maker, Stranz said that was all Ghere.
“When Tom Oakley was there, he did a nice job. But Ryan knew the system,” said Stranz. “He made all the difference in the world. Ryan put Mattoon on the map as far as soccer goes. I know when he was in the Big 12, it was a struggle when you have to go up to those Peoria and Bloomington schools all of the time. But when he got to the Apollo, he thrived. He did a great job and it’s hard to believe he’s been there for 25 years.”