Photo by Jeff Yoder
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Most of the teammates of West High junior Gada Ambo got a weekend full of jubilant state tournament memories during the Trojans’ improbable title run last June.
Ambo on the other hand has just one memory of the state tournament and its one of dejection.
A freshman starter for the Trojans in 2016 Ambo played one match at the state tournament, a stunning 1-0 quarterfinal loss to Cedar Rapids Washington.
“I just remember how disappointing it was,” Ambo said. “We were the better team, we had the possession the whole day and they had one fast player that had a chance and he scored. We were the better team so I felt disappointed and I don’t want that to happen again.”
After spending a year playing at the Sporting Kansas City Academy Ambo is back at West High and back with the Trojans at the state tournament ready to write a more memorable ending.
Ambo and fifth-ranked West High open Class 3A state tournament play on Thursday against No. 8 Ankeny Centennial (15-4) at 5:10 p.m. at Cownie Soccer Complex in Des Moines.
“It is a lot of fun to be back,” Ambo said. “I have my friends and family here so it’s been a fun season and we all want it. From the beginning we have been working hard and we are ready for this week.”
Ambo burst onto the scene two seasons ago as a freshman.
He scored nine goals and had four assists in his first season of varsity action while helping West High return to the state meet after a rare miss in 2015.
Ambo lived with a host family in Kansas City last year while competing for the Sporting Kansas City Academy.
After one year with the U.S. Soccer Development Academy team Ambo returned to West High a better and more confident player.
“I learned a lot about myself and it made me a better player,” Ambo said. “It was a great experience. You just learn so much about yourself as a person and a soccer player.”
The first step for Ambo in his return was refamiliarizing himself with his old team that was full of new faces.
West High coach Brad Stiles said the team welcomed the return of Ambo.
“We kind of opened the door for him and said you were part of us and are back and where do you want to go,” Stiles said. “I think that kind of got everybody started off well and just kind of reconnecting and having that communication open.”
Helping that transition was a roster that featured 11 underclassmen and plenty of other players searching for new roles after the graduation from a strong senior group that led the title charge last year.
Ambo was finding his role at the same time as everyone else.
“At the beginning it was different, it was a different playing style but I got used to it,” Ambo said. “My coach told me I had space to do what I needed.”
A strong work ethic and team-first attitude have helped make the transition back to high school soccer fairly seamless for Ambo.
“I always tell him the one I would change is how fast he would come off the field on a substitution but everything else he checks the box,” Stiles said. “I showed a clip in film where somebody gave him a pretty good assist and he finished it off on his own and by the time they got back to half line he picked that guy out and gave him a big five and a slap on the back.”
His production on the field has soared in his return to West High.
Ambo has already doubled his scoring output from his freshman season with a team-high 18 goals and has added a team-best seven assists.
“I asked my wife last night ‘does Gada make us that much better?’ and we kind of looked at each other and said ‘maybe he does’ but he’s the type of player that doesn’t have to fill the stat sheet every single game,” Stiles said. “He’s there to do the hard work and do some running and some defending and the little things as well.”
West High has been at its best when Ambo has been at his.
The junior forward has scored 12 goals and added six assists during the Trojans current 12-match winning streak.
“We had to switch some players around and get the right feel for it,” Ambo said. “We have had some players trying different positions and now that we are set we have kept improving and are playing really well.”