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Boys soccer: Ektnitphong stepping down from coaching

Worthington Trojans head boys soccer coach Smitty Ektnitphong (middle, standing) discusses strategy with his players during halftime of a game. Ektniphong recently announced his retirement as coach after leading WHS to the state tournament in 2017. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- Smitty Ektnitphong, the colorful, hard-charging head coach of the Worthington Trojans boys soccer team, is stepping down after 16 years of coaching the sport.

Always one to wear his passions on his sleeve -- never one to sugar-coat his personal outlook on things -- Ektnitphong told The Globe in his own unimitable way this week that he’s calling it a career.

“It’s time to hang it up. I didn’t think I’d have the guts to pull the plug,” he said.

But pull the plug, he did. The veteran teacher of “the beautiful game” is changing jobs at Cooperative Energy Company to become a driver. And besides that, he wondered aloud recently whether his nature -- which he described as “thinking, eating and sleeping soccer” -- has been telling him to slow down a bit.

In 2017, Ektnitphong’s Trojans qualified for the Minnesota state Class A tournament, losing to Orono 3-2 in overtime in the quarterfinals to finish with a sparkling 18-1-1 record. Several of the players who made 2017 such a success will return for 2018.

“I’m happy about the way the season went last year. It went as well as I liked, so it made it easier to take this job. I felt I could leave (the team) in good hands,” Ektnitphong said. “It takes a lot to do what we did. And it takes a little bit out of my soul, including all the people who helped out. I don’t know if I could go into the next season and take the same out of me, with my expectations.”

Ektnitphong demanded much of his players. And last year, they responded.

“I ask so much of them. And they all give it to the program. It’s something, to me, that’s great as a coach,” he said.

Upon looking back on his coaching career, Ektnitphong said he drilled into his players what it takes to become a team -- not just the way most teams are teams, but more than that.

“Do they really know what a team is all about?” he said. “None of them can take a day off. And they didn’t.

“And that’s something all coaches would love to get from their players. And I was really fortunate. For some reason, I was able to get more than maximum.”

Throughout the 2017 year, and probably as early as 2016, the Trojans were on the radar of soccer fans throughout Minnesota.

“What I’m happy about is that people talk about us. When soccer season comes around, not only in Worthington, but up there in Minneapolis,” recalled the likeable coach.

Upon walking away, Ektnitphong said he wanted to thank Worthington High School, and especially his athletic director, Josh Dale, who he called “a tremendous help.” He also wanted to thank his wife, Annie.

After his first year as coach -- in a year where the Trojans lost consistently -- Ektnitphong said he almost called it quits, believing that maybe he wasn’t the right person for the job. It was Annie who showed him he was, indeed, the right man for the job.

“I have to give her credit, to convince me to hang in there,” he said.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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