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CHS varsity boys soccer head coach stepping down
Ceres High varsity boys soccer head coach Koeurn Phe paced the sidelines as the final minutes ticked off the clock during the Bulldogs' 2-0 loss to Sierra in the quarterfinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV playoffs on Nov. 8.

Phe announced his retirement two days later while gathering with his players for a team dinner at Hometown Buffet in Turlock.

Koeurn decided to step down to spend more time with his wife, Sophia, and three children, Dominique, Donnavin and Michael.

"It wasn't easy to walk away," Koeurn said. "I love soccer. But I need to focus on my family now."

The Bulldogs compiled a 53-22-10 record (37-9-6 in league), won one section title and qualified for the playoffs four years in a row under Phe's guidance from 2008-11.

Koeurn graduated from Ceres High at the age of 16 in 1992. A standout on the boys soccer team, Phe tallied a team-high 16 goals as a senior.

"As a player, I was very competitive and disciplined," Koeurn said. "That's what I brought to the program as a coach. I pushed that philosophy to the kids. We had a team to be reckoned with."

The Bulldogs made history in 2009 when they claimed the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV crown.

Ceres High upset Central Valley 2-0 in the finals and finished the year with a 17-3-3 record. Led by seniors Kyle Cerny, Luis Martinez and David Estrada, the Bulldogs ended a six-game winless streak that spanned four years against their crosstown rivals.

River City overcame a 1-0 deficit and defeated Ceres High 5-4 in a dramatic penalty-kick shootout for the 2008 section championship.

"We played for more than Ceres High," Phe said. "We played for the community. That's why I got very emotional after we won the section title. That took our program to another level. That's going to stick with me forever. I had a dream of returning to Ceres High as a coach and building a program that would compete. To me, it was the greatest job I ever had. I'm thankful I had the opportunity."

The Bulldogs managed to compile a 13-6-1 record, place second in league (9-3-0) and advance to the playoffs this year despite competing with a new lineup. Hit hard by graduation, Ceres High also lost three starters to grades late in the season.

The Bulldogs edged 2011 section runner-up East Union 3-2 during the regular season.

Ceres High escaped with a 2-1 win over semi-finalist Central Valley in Western Athletic Conference play.

"It wasn't easy," said Phe, who has overcome many obstacles in his own life.

Koeurn fled from war-ravaged Cambodia to the United States with his parents and siblings at the age of three.

He attended five different schools. A fast learner, Phe skipped the second and sixth grades.

Koeurn became the first person in his family to attend college.

He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from Fresno State following a life-changing battle. Phe was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma, an uncommon type of cancer occurring in the areas of the head and neck.

"I tell people I've been to hell and back," said Phe, who had surgery at UC San Francisco Medical Center in 1996 to remove growths from his sinus and top right jaw. "I didn't expect to live."

Unable to eat because radiation therapy burned his throat, Koeurn's diet consisted of liquids for two months. The treatment damaged his right eye, which later had to be removed. He also suffered memory loss.

Phe wouldn't have survived without the support of his wife. Koeurn and Sophia met during his sophomore year at Fresno State. They've been married since 1998.

"I totally looked different after the surgery but her love for me was as strong as it was in the beginning," Koeurn said. "A lot of people tell me I'm very fortunate to have someone like that. It really made a difference in my recovery."

Phe's been in remission for 14 years.

A business representative for Stanislaus County Alliance, Koeurn will volunteer as a coach for Dominique's and Donnavin's youth soccer teams during his free time. Sophia and 16-month-old Michael will sit nearby at games and bring a smile to his face.

"I'm pretty blessed," Phe said.