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West senior John Mendoza is county player of the year in soccer. West coach Tripp Smith is the county coach of the year.
The sports staffs of the The Beacon and The Pilot selected players on the basis of recommendations from coaches, conference honors and performance throughout the season.
Mendoza, a forward, scored 18 goals and had eight assists playing against some of the toughest competition in the state. Coaches noticed: The N.C. Soccer Coaches Association selected Mendoza to the Class 3-A All-State team in addition to the Region 4 Class 3-A team.
Mendoza is also on the All-Mideastern Conference first team.
“He lives with the soccer ball,” Smith said. “Anything he puts his mind to doing, he can do. The footwork and technical skills come from the time he’s spent working on it. It’s a never-ending thing. As a soccer player, your touch is crucial to everything you do. Unless you’re around that ball all the time, your touch is never going to be like Johnny Mendoza’s.
“He can do anything he wants to with it. He’ll juggle it, dribble it, shoot.”
Smith proved that coaching matters: After the Trojans finished winless in the conference—a conference that included two teams that reached the championship games in the NCHSAA playoffs—Smith solidified the team’s defense and preached team unity. The result was two victories in the NCHSAA playoffs before a third-round loss to a conference foe.
Four other West players are on the 12-player team: Chaz Earp, Casey Leonard, Chip Mendoza and Logan Tripp.
Earp, a junior defensive, was selected to the Region 4 Class 3-A team.
“(Chaz) is just over the top as far as his progress this year,” Smith said. “He progressed at a rate faster than I thought he might.”
Leonard, a junior at outside right center, was selected to the Region 4 Class 3-A team.
“(Casey) struggled the first couple of weeks,” Smith said, “but he picked up his level of play considerably and ended up, by the end of the year, being one of those kids you were just relying on always. We never brought him off the field. He played with a separated shoulder for a while. And at one time we thought he had suffered a broken nose, but he would not come off the field. He’s that type of player.
“He plays with so much heart. He trains so hard. He’s the hardest-training player we have. He’s at game speed when he walks on the practice field.”
Chip Mendoza, a junior forward, scored 13 goals. He was selected to the Region 4 Class 3-A team.
“A hard-working forward,” Smith said. “He never stops. That’s crucial. A lot of times a forward will stand around, but Chip does not do that. He is constantly on the move.”
Tripp, a senior goalkeeper, was an honorable mention all-conference selection in a conference that had two teams play for state championships, and that indicates a lot about Tripp’s talent, Smith said.
“Logan was in competition with two guys who competed for state championships this year,” Smith said. “Probably the best goalkeeper in the region plays in our conference at Jacksonville. It’s going to be hard to get noticed in that position, but (Logan) did.”
Four players from South are on the all-county team: Tyler Evans, Frank Fiscella, Robert Jones and Kennon Young.
Evans is a junior midfielder. Fiscella, a senior midfielder/forward, is on the All-Waccamaw Conference first team. Jones is a junior midfielder.Young is a sophomore goalkeeper and midfielder.
From North, two players are on the all-county team: Mike Lewis and Eric Spafford.
Lewis, a senior goalkeeper, is on the All-Waccamaw Conference second team. Spafford, a junior captain, is on the All-Waccamaw Conference first team.
MICHAEL PAUL is the sports editor at the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.