Payson suffered through a 4-14-3 boys soccer season this fall.
Inexperience permeated the roster. The team’s two seniors were first-year soccer players. Only five letter-winners returned from a year ago, and only one of them started this season.
Despite the lack of experience, there were positives. Among them were juniors Felix Cruz and Trevor Clawson and sophomore Gerardo Moceri. The three were voted to the Division IV All-Section III First Team by coaches.
“It’s a great honor because those are the three captains of our team and the leaders of our team,” said Longhorns coach Chris Avakian. “So for them to be recognized is pretty phenomenal.”
In his third season as a varsity starter, Cruz was the team’s most experienced player. The forward scored four goals and assisted on another. He dealt with a nagging ankle injury all season.
“He led by example,” Avakian said. “He’s a good all-around player. He can play anywhere and everywhere you put him. He hurt his ankle in the first or second game and was out for about two weeks and it was bothersome all season. But he gave 100 percent of what he had and that’s all we could ask.”
Cruz didn’t care who scored, as long as it was a Longhorn.
“He’s unselfish,” the coach said. “He doesn’t have to score. He can set up other guys. Getting an assist is just as important to him as scoring a goal.”
Versatility characterized Clawson, a third-year varsity player and first-year starter, as well. He tied for the team lead in goals (six) and assists (two). But Avakian liked having him in a defensive role to take advantage of his speed.
“He’s a good all-around athlete and player,” the coach said. “He’s the fastest kid on the team. He’s another one who could play anywhere. He can play offense, defense, anywhere. We had to use him on defense because he has the speed to get to the ball and clear it out. We’re hoping for big things from him next year.”
Moceri was also voted a captain by teammates, despite being a sophomore. His willingness to take over at goalkeeper for Jacob Avakian midway through the season-opening game when Avakian suffered a concussion that sidelined him all season is an indication of his focus on the team. He remained between the pipes all year, playing all but one tournament game in goal when Avakian returned briefly. He was a backup midfielder as a freshman.
“We had a lot of injuries,” coach Avakian said. “We lost our
starting goalkeeper and had to put Gerardo in there and he did a great job there. But you lose so much on the field without having him on the field. Gerardo would have been middle midfield. He plays beyond his age. He’s much more mature than a sophomore.”
Moceri was a real leader, according to his coach. “He organized (the players) in the offseason and got them together to practice,” Avakian said.
“Gerardo’s recruited another kid and he’s working with him on weekends trying to get him to play goalkeeper.”
Only four players made the second team. Coaches had to nominate their players to have them eligible to make the all-section team. The nominations and voting are all done online at aia365.com. Several coaches didn’t participate for one reason or another. Avakian said he believes many coaches prefer the way all-region and all-state votes used to occur — in person.
“A lot of coaches don’t vote and don’t nominate their kids,” Avakian said. ‘The coaches are old school. They like to meet face-to-face and vote. But I don’t know why you wouldn’t vote for your kids.”
Section III is comprised of eight schools. But only four schools were represented in the all-section voting.
Seven of the 13 first-team positions were filled by players from Chino Valley, which ended Blue Ridge’s four-year state championship run with a 3-1 victory in the Division IV final.