When the double whistle was blown to end Saturday’s state semifinal match at the Belgrade Youth Sports Complex, it marked the end of an era for Ric Plante.
The longtime Belgrade boys’ soccer coach has decided to step down after 15 seasons at the helm. He’s been head coach for all but one of the program’s 16 years of existence and turned the program into a Class A powerhouse.
The Panthers fell one victory shy of reaching a fifth straight championship match, losing to the Polson Pirates 1-0. Afterwards Plante struggled to find the words when reflecting about his time guiding the program.
“This is it. This is my last game,” he said. “My last game and you don’t know how much you’re going to miss it until it’s gone, so we’ll see.”
While Plante is retiring from coaching, he’ll continue serve as the director of coaching for Montana Youth Soccer. He travels around the state providing clinics for coaches and kids.
No team benefitted more from Plante’s vast experience than Belgrade. The program began in the fall of 2003 and quickly became a postseason regular.
Plante guided the Panthers to eight winning seasons, nine postseason appearances, seven semifinal appearances, five finals appearances and a pair of state championships. That includes an unbeaten season a year ago as the program claimed its second consecutive state title.
“There’s no way I would have thought that would have happened,” Plante said. “A lot of credit to the Belgrade kids, the Belgrade community, Belgrade High School — just the work ethic here makes it easy to be successful.”
Belgrade boasted 12 or more wins in four of the past five seasons, and reached the finals in 2010 and from 2014-2017. In a 4-0 playoff victory against Hamilton on Oct. 13, Plante reached the 100th victory milestone at Belgrade, and finishes with 76 losses and 18 ties (14-9 in the postseason).
The Panthers also won four conference championships, including this season during a 9-2-3 campaign.
“I was thinking about it this morning (prior to playing Polson), we had a team breakfast, and I was just kind of sitting there going, ‘If you had told me in 15 years you’d get to five finals in 15 years,’” Plante said, pausing. “I still can’t really digest it. I got to think about it.”
Belgrade moves to Class AA beginning next year, and Plante has already groomed a replacement. Former All-State midfielder Jeff DeBuse, who was a member of the 2016 championship team and served as an assistant this fall, filled in as head coach for three matches while Plante was out of town. The Panthers went 2-0-1 with DeBuse at the helm.
“It’s going to be a challenge. It’s going to be an uphill challenge at first,” Plante said of the move to Class AA. “Obviously, coming into double A, (it’s) stepping up to the big leagues. But if Jeff replaces me, and I hope he does, they got a good coach to start with.”