Great players don't just play great, they make other players better.
Each of the three Deseret News 1998 soccer Most Valuable Players - Mike Esquivel, Stephen Cruz and Ashton Hobbs - shared an ability to help teammates improve.5A - Mike Esquivel, Davis: Mike Esquivel played sweeper for his state champion Darts, but he could be found all over the field. He was versatile and talented enough that Davis coach Brett Jepson let him make a lot of on-field decisions.
Against Brighton in a semifinal game, Esquivel's soft game-winning header in the final two minutes kept his squad alive. Against Alta in the championship, he helped slow down two of the state's top scoring forwards, all-staters Scott Richins and Matt Affleck for a 2-1 championship.
"He moved up to attack and read the situation," Jepson said. "I let him determine when he was a forward. I could tell him what I wanted him to focus on in a game and he would take it upon himself to move up or stay back."
Esquival not only made good decisions, he brought good results. He played a key role scoring two goals in the quarterfinals, one in the semifinals and keyed a defensive struggle for the title.
"More than anything for us, as an MVP, is how he got everybody involved in the game," Jepson said.
4A - Stephen Cruz, Bountiful: In the title contest, the Provo Bulldogs sent flurry after offensive flurry at the Braves net, always to be turned away.
Any championship team consists of several key elements, but Cruz was among the senior leaders that helped Bountiful snag a title in its first year in 4A competition.
"He won the starting position from a senior (two years ago). He had tremendous saves this year and last year," said his coach Mike Parker of his team's goalkeeper. "He had three solid years. He worked hard, he put in the time. He was a general in the backfield. He directs traffic and he was excellent off the field, too."
The keeper recorded an impressive 11 shutouts during the season. Almost as impressive was his performance during the championship game was his conduct after it. He went out of his way with the gathered press to give credit to his defensive players after they had captured the title.
He also managed an assist in the regular season after booting the ball deep enough down field for a Braves forward to punt it into the net.
The three-year starter was especially strong in the playoffs, staving off the second-half Bulldog flurry in the finals and withstanding Timpview's initial on-slaught in the semis.
3A - Ashton Hobbs, Lehi: Ashton Hobbs was not the flashiest player for the two-time state champion Pioneers. The defensive specialist didn't pick up lots of statistic, but he did manage to earn a lot of respect with his on-field performance and his practice ethic.
He helped hold his team together after an early scare in the championships, when Park City took a lead. During long scoreless droughts against Ogden and Snow Canyon in the playoffs, it was Hobbs who helped keep his squad together mentally and on the field until the young offensive team managed some scores.
"He is not only the anchor of our defense," said Lehi coach Mike Corbett, "but the cheerleader for the whole team. When the team was kind of loafing and not playing he spoke up."
It was not unusual for Hobbs to stay after practice and work on his skills, grabbing whatever teammates he could.
"I would go in, put all the equipment away, get changed, talk to some guys, drive away and he would still be there.
"He always, always played hard and was an excellent practice player," Corbett said.