Note: This is the fifth in a series of stories about some of Wyoming’s biggest high school sports underdogs.

Former Campbell County soccer coach Lyle Nannemann remembers more than one player coming up to him with the same complaint during the 1994 state tournament: I’ve got nothing clean to wear.

On the verge of a championship that had reverberations across the state, some of the Camels had to make an emergency underwear run.

“Some of them didn’t pack enough clothes for that weekend because they figured they’d be coming home sooner than they did,” Nannemann said this summer, 28 years after the Camels’ unexpected championship that completely changed the expectations of soccer teams in Wyoming. “It was unexpected they were going to carry on into the championship. They figured they’d be going home early.”

With expectations low but momentum high, the Camels won the 1994 state soccer championship, and in doing so became the first school outside Cheyenne to finish a season on top.

The start of state-sanctioned high school soccer in Wyoming in 1987 made clear the difference between the haves and the have-nots.

Cheyenne had what was necessary to win championships. No other community did.

Cheyenne schools had won the first seven state soccer championships, with East winning in 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1992 and Central winning in 1990, 1991 and 1993. In both 1987 and 1992, the two Cheyenne schools faced each other in the championship game.

Rory Williams, who played for Campbell County, also said Cheyenne’s club team, the Steam, helped build that depth and that competitiveness.

“They just had a lot more players, and their depth was always really good,” Williams said. “They just had really high expectations.”

Added Chris McMackin, a senior on the 1994 Gillette team and now the Camels’ head coach, the Cheyenne schools’ proximity to Colorado gave them opportunities no other programs had.

“They just had a head start on the rest of the state,” he said.

Meanwhile, expectations weren’t as high in other programs across the state — as the lack of underwear shows.

Even so, Nannemann said the ability to fuse talent helped make the Camels champions.

“They were a great group of boys,” Nannemann said. “There was a lot of different personalities on the team and they just came together and gelled to win the championship.”

The lead-up to the 1994 state tournament gave no hint to the seismic shift about to take place in soccer in Wyoming. With an expanded eight-team field for just the second year, East and Central were both the prohibitive favorites. Central came into the state tournament with a record of 9-0-1. East, meanwhile, was 8-1-1, its only loss via its crosstown rival.

Lander (8-0-2) was the West Conference champion, but not a true threat as the Tigers hadn’t played Cheyenne schools and, well, weren’t from Cheyenne.

The rest of the field was unremarkable, with Riverton (6-3-1) and Natrona (5-2-3) just above .500, Kelly Walsh (4-4-2) and Campbell County (5-5) right at the midpoint and Buffalo (3-7) sneaking in as the last representative from the much tougher East Conference.

The expected happened in the first round. Cheyenne schools cruised; Central obliterated KW 9-0, while East shut out Riverton 3-0. Lander won, too, but needed overtime to beat an underwhelming Buffalo team. That just left Campbell County and Natrona playing for the right to go up against someone who would likely end their season the next day, as consolation rounds were not yet played at state.

The two teams battled to a 1-1 draw in regulation time, as Jeff Vega scored late in regulation on a penalty kick for the Camels to send it to overtime. Then McMackin scored the game-winner in the first half of overtime, and the Camels were on… seemingly to their doom against Central, a team that hadn’t lost in two years.

But, contrary to expectations and history, the Camels found a way to give the Indians their first loss in a rainy, snowy game in Laramie. Holding Central to just one goal (against a 5.6 goal-per-game average) in the 2-1 victory, McMackin scored again, this time less than two minutes into the game, and Williams added another within the first 10 minutes.

“They hadn’t experienced that in two-plus years,” McMackin said. “They were in shock.”

After the two goals, Williams said, “we just held on for dear life for probably the next 70-some minutes, in the snow and in the rain. … They had a lot of ammo and were able to get quite a few shots off, but our defense did a great job and our goalie, Mike Roe, did a great job (with 11 saves).”

And just like that, the Camels were onto the championship game against another Cheyenne school, East.

McMackin said Campbell County’s confidence was high against the Thunderbirds. Despite losing twice to East in the regular season, both games were competitive.

The Camels’ defense rose to the heights necessary for a state championship game. Freshman Justin Graham’s penalty kick in the first half was all the scoring Campbell County needed, and the Camels beat East 1-0 to win their first state soccer championship and the first for any Wyoming school outside of the confines of the Capital City.

McMackin said the crowd for the 1994 title game was one of the largest he had ever seen for a Wyoming high school game.

“So many teams were there rooting for us just because they wanted someone other than (a) Cheyenne (school) to win,” he said.

Along with the 2016 team from Laramie and the 2017 East team, the ’94 Camels are one of only three 4A boys teams to win state titles by winning three games at state each by a single-goal margin.

The Camels’ title ended the Cheyenne stranglehold, and they understood immediately that they were ushering in a new era of parity across the state in boys soccer.

Although East beat Central in the 1995 title game, six different schools won championships in the next six years, including Natrona, Buffalo, Kelly Walsh and Laramie. East and Central still sit atop the state soccer championship tallies, with East at eight and Central at seven, but Jackson has also won seven titles (including the three most recent in 4A) while Kelly Walsh and Laramie are right behind with six apiece.

McMackin said the change in Gillette’s community soccer programs is evidence of the strides the Camels have made and matches similar programs statewide. Where the teams in the 1980s and 1990s were formed by teams of players whose parents had never played soccer, “now you’re seeing second-, third-generation families who have played the game here.”

However, Campbell County still has only the 1994 title to claim as its own. McMackin, who had such a critical part of the 1994 team, is now the head coach of the Camels and is working to change that.

“It was like we lifted the curse for the rest of the state and then put it on ourselves,” he said.

Meanwhile, 28 years later, Nannemann — who stepped down as head coach in 1998 but still works with Gillette’s club soccer teams alongside some of his former players — said the Camels’ breakthrough “did make the confidence level come up where other teams felt they could do it also.”

And Williams, now the head boys basketball coach for defending Class 4A champion Thunder Basin, said the 1994 title was the one that helped other teams say, “If Campbell County can go in there and compete, why not us?”


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