After each season, four soccer players are chosen as the MVP of their classification. Each season, players are more than deserving of said honor, thanks to their on the field prowess and leadership. The 2017 batch of MVP’s if no different, but what sets them apart is the unique and individual ways they found to impact the game.
Sam Hunter, Layton
Layton's Sam Hunter (5A MVP) vs. Ogden in prep soccer in Ogden on Friday, March 10, 2017. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
It’s not often that being compared to an inanimate object is a compliment. In fact, most people would find it quite the insult. When it comes to Layton goalkeeper Sam Hunter, however, nothing could be more apropos.
“Sam was just a wall,” said Layton head coach Rick Talamantez. “He was such a big time player for us. Anything that came into his vicinity, you knew he was going to put a hand on it. We could always count on him to make a big save and just control that backline.”
Hunter did just that, recording a 5A-best 11 shutouts (14.5 in his Layton career) in the Lancers 2017 championship season.
With the senior captain in goal, Layton allowed a measly 12 goals all year, tied for the best mark in the classification. Region 2 suffered especially so against the Lancers, with the other six teams mustering just seven combined goals against the region champs.
Amazingly, Hunter was even more dominant in the state tournament. Through their four games, Layton allowed just one goal in regulation and overtime, in the 4-1 quarterfinal victory over American Fork.
Hunter did allow three penalty kick scores in the title match against Herriman, but he also scored a goal himself and made a critical save in the Lancers 5-3 shootout victory.
“Sam is one of the best goalkeepers in the state,” said teammate and 2017 Deseret News Mr. Soccer Kaden Amano. “He is just on another level as a goalkeeper. We always knew he would make saves to keep us in the game.”
“He’s an athlete. A really good one,” added Talamantez. “He just brought a whole new level of intensity into the box. His agility and desire just showed each and every game. He refused to let the ball into the net.”
Nick Lowrimore, Alta
Alta's Nick Lowrimore against East High School during the 4A championship game at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Thursday, May 25, 2017. Alta won 1-0 to take the state title. | Nicole Boliaux, Deseret News
Statistics do an excellent job proving the worth of players, and, for the most part, paint a fairly accurate picture. Sometimes, however, the eye test tells the real story, and in the case of Alta winger and 4A MVP, Nick Lowrimore, nothing could be truer.
Do not be mistaken, Lowrimore was excellent all season for the Hawks and the nine goals he scored tied him for second most on the team. For fun, the senior captain added six assists, and regularly impacted both the Alta attack and defense. His play and leadership helped propel the soccer powerhouse to an 18-1-1 record and the Region 7 championship.
That being said, and according to Atla head coach Lee Mitchell, it was his play in the playoffs, specifically in the quarterfinals against Ogden, that really demonstrated just who Lowrimore is.
Early in the contest, Lowrimore went for a tackle, as befits his aggressive style. Something went wrong, however, and the winger hyperextended his knee.
“He strained his MCL on the play,” said Mitchell. “We were down 1-0 at the time and we brought him out of the game to be looked at. The trainer looked at him and said he was okay to go. He couldn’t hurt himself more. He would be in a lot of pain, though.”
Lowrimore reentered the game, and within 10 minutes he had netted two goals to give Alta a lead it would not relinquish. Alta went on from there to defeat Box Elder and East High Schools, eventually claiming the 2017 state championship.
“He totally threw us on his back and we went from there,” said Mitchell. “He played all three additional playoff games with that knee injury and you never would have known it until you saw him off the field.”
Mitchell added about his captain, “Over his four years at Alta, he grew into a very confident and polished player. His play opened up opportunities for his teammates time and again. (Nick) did everything well.”
JC Vazquez, Ridgeline
Ridgeline's JC Vazquez plays Juan Diego Catholic School in the 3A boys soccer championship at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, May 13, 2017. Ridgeline won 2-1 in double overtime. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
The Ridgeline RiverHawks made history in 2017, winning the state championship in the school’s first year of competition. No one was more responsible for the young program's success than forward JC Vazquez.
The senior netted 21 goals and dished out nine assists this season, numbers that place him squarely in the upper echelon of soccer players in Utah. And yet, to his coach and teammates, there was much more to the dynamic scorer.
“He was committed to excellence and very disciplined,” said Ridgeline head coach JC Vazquez. “ (JC) was one of our captains and he did a great job all year reminding the team of our goals. He kept the team together.”
No goal was bigger for the younger Vazquez than that of helping his teammates improve.
“As the season progressed (JC) was very focused on helping others reach their full potential. Because of that, I saw him and the team grow as the season developed.”
Vasquez also came up big for the RiverHawks, at the most timely of moments. No moment demonstrated this more than his score against Snow Canyon in the semifinals.
With a furious wind in their face, the RiverHawks had managed to play the Warriors to a first half draw, or so it seemed. Just before the end of the half, Vazquez broke free and somehow snuck the ball past Snow Canyon’s keeper and into the goal.
“The game was tied 1-1, and there were just a few seconds left before the end of the half,” said the elder Vazquez. “His goal proved to be all the difference.”
Vazquez also netted a goal in the championship game against Juan Diego, briefly putting Ridgeline in front. Despite the plentiful goals he provided, it was his leadership that truly left a mark.
“He wanted the best for his teammates. He always wanted to help others do the best they could.”
Alessio Tufano, Layton Christian
Layton Christian's Alessio Tufano kicks the ball during the 2A championship game. | Gary Czenkus, Photo courtesy
It’s not every day that a defender is chosen as MVP. Often it’s simply easier to notice the impact of a scorer or a goalie. After all, you can see that clearly on the box score. And yet, so often in soccer it is the guys manning the back that decide who wins the game. For the 2017 2A state champion Layton Christian Academy Eagles, that guy was Alessio Tufano.
A big-bodied junior, Tufano led a strong Eagles defense, that, when coupled with a dynamic offense, made Layton Christian nearly unbeatable.
The Eagles finished the season 14-2-1, and much of that success can be attributed to the impactful defender.
“He was our captain, even if he wasn’t wearing a band,” said Layton Christian Academy head coach Chris Tatro. “(Alessio) directed our defense. He is a high energy player, yet his calm demeanor helped him lead the guys and calm down the hotheads when needed. Everybody likes Alessio, and there is a good reason for that.”
Known for his powerful foot, Tufano often was the instigator of deadly Eagle counterattacks, and when that wasn’t the case, he was simply doing his job.
“He doesn’t have any real weaknesses in his game,” said Tatro. “He is not an on-and-off player. You can always rely on Alessio. He is good all the time.”
That trait contributed to the fact that for Tatro, there wasn’t a moment to point to that showed what kind of player Alessio is.
“He contributed in every game. He was instrumental in our success the entire season. There was never one game he didn’t show up.”
That consistency led Alessio to gain the respect of his teammates, respect that helped him become one of the team leaders.
“He is the guy everyone wants to have on their team,” said Tatro.