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War Veteran Coach turns around Ysleta girls’ soccer program

EL PASO, Texas - For the Ysleta High School girls' soccer program, practice starts as the sun rises. After all, the playoffs depend on it.

Two years ago, you may not have seen this dedication from the Indians'. But that was before Hector Cano.

“Everyone always made fun of us like you oh you guys always lose, you can never score," says Senior Natalia Rios.

“We had to completely take apart what we had and build a brand new team,” adds fellow senior Robyn "Monty" Montelongo.

A brand new team, but with the same players.

Enter Cano, who took Ysleta’s head coaching job in 2019, inheriting a team that had finished in the bottom of the standings.

Today, 7 AM practices are on brand for the Indians. They're direct result of Coach Cano's determination, as he's already overcome battles far beyond the soccer field.

That’s because Cano learned about structure in the United States Air Force, where he served two tours as a field operator in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.

But a life-changing event overseas gave all the perspective he needed.

“George Bush’s famous mission accomplished speech on top of the USS Norfolk," recalls Cano. "About a week after that."

"Part of our snatch and grab operations, our combat team what we were doing....Heavy fire. And was at the wrong place at the wrong time with an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) blast.”

Cano was told by doctors he had less than a 10 percent chance of ever walking again.

But after nearly a year of rehab, therapy, and self will, Cano conquered the odds.

“Was I stubborn about it?" recounts Cano of his rehab process. "In my heart, in my soul that I wanted to believe that I wanted to prove people wrong and want to walk again? Yeah, absolutely."

"You don’t ever give that ultimate power to any other man, any other person, that’s for the higher being to make that final decision.”

In recovery, Cano found outlet in coaching.

While still serving the Air Force in Military Training in Colorado Springs, Cano served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the Air Force Academy women's soccer team before relocating to San Antonio to coach at a local private high school.

In 2019, Cano returned home to El Paso to take over the Indians' program.

“I told them it’s like look, you guys have been doing things your way for a long time and it’s gotten you here. Now we’re going to do things a different way. And they bought in.”

Cano’s early morning conditioning and hands-on approach paid off in a ten-win season, the schools first in 12 years.

“He’s been really tough on us which is something that we needed in previous years we didn’t have that,” says Senior Natalie Perales.

In addition to producing wins on the field, Cano has helped produce futures for his team. Since he took over, seven different girls have received a combined total of 42 offers to continue their playing career at the collegiate level.

It's part of Cano's constitution of striving for excellence, drawing on his own experience to teach lessons for life.

“Being committed to excellence in everything they do," says Cano of his philosophy.

"Not just when they’re on the field, not just when their in the classroom, but hey when you go home. Are you being a leader within your family? I don’t care if they’re throwing out the trash. Doing it to the best of their ability. That mindset.

"It’s about standards. Either your meeting it, exceeding it, or your falling below it.”

And for a team that only needed a little kick, they certainly got one in their head coach.

“When he tells us that we could do anything we can if we put our minds to it. He’s walking proof that that’s possible,” says Montelongo.

Coach Cano just celebrated a personal milestone with his 100th career win Tuesday night, but he's eyes are set on an immediate prize.

The Ysleta girls soccer team currently holds the 4th and final playoff spot in their district.

Rest assured, the Indians will give the postseason push everything they have.

Sports / Texas Sports

Nate Ryan

Nate Ryan is an ABC-7 sports anchor/reporter.

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