Throughout the 2018 season, and really throughout their respective high school careers, the Deseret News boys soccer MVPs were simply invaluable.
They played different positions and had different responsibilities and roles on their title-winning teams, but each and every one played a vital part in a historic championship run.
Here’s a list of this year’s MVPs as picked by the Deseret News. The first-, second- and third-team selections were voted on by the coaches:
Carson Ecalono, Pleasant Grove
It takes an army to win a state championship and as such the state champion Pleasant Grove Vikings had quite the collection of players this season.
Stalwarts like Cameron Pennock, Tyler Ashby, Conor Ecalono, C.J. Wiggins and Jorge Valdizan who helped the Vikings proved themselves the best team in the 6A classification.
Each of the aforementioned players played a vital role at some point during the championship run.
Ashby, a wide-back, scored goals, eight over the course of the season, and often marked the best-attacking player on the opposing team.
Pennock, after moving from a holding midfield position to defensive back, helped Pleasant Grove create a nearly unbeatable defense.
Wiggins did the dirty work, ala Draymond Green, while Valdizan showed off nearly unparalleled creating ability. Really, the list of contributions and contributors could go on and on.
No player was of greater import, however, than Carson Ecalono.
Despite missing a sizable chunk of the season to injury, as well as illness, Ecalono was the team’s leading scorer and assist man, with nine goals and sixteen assists.
Those numbers, while impressive, are but the tip of the iceberg as far as Ecalono’s importance.
Simply put, he was the very best of the Vikings.
“Our front line was the catalyst to our title run and that was mainly Carson,” Pleasant Grove head coach Chris Ecalono said. “We had 42 goals this season, he had to do with 27 of them. It wasn’t coincidence that we hit our stride when he got healthy. Carson was always the one creating. He was our leading goal scorer. He was our set piece taker. He had the ability to make plays that no one else could make.”
In almost every game after his return to the lineup, Ecalono scored or assisted on a Viking goal.
His presence was especially felt in the playoffs, where, from his spot on the left wing, Ecalono opened up opportunities time and again for his teammates.
“If you look at every game, it’s hard to come up with a game where he didn’t have to do with one of our goals,” Ecalono said. “Carson was our main production playmaker.”
He also calmly drilled the opening penalty kick of PK’s during the state title game, a kick that may be the most difficult in soccer.
“Carson’s our best penalty kicker taker and we had him take the first kick for a reason,” Ecalono said. “If you want to win games, get the ball to Carson.”
Josh Affleck, Alta
The Alta Hawks boys soccer team has had its share of state-title runs during the tenure of head coach Lee Mitchell and with those runs more than a few MVPs.
Heading into this season, after being a part of the 2017 state championship team, Josh Affleck decided he was ready for a leadership role.
“The thing about Josh is that he played a lot last year in that championship run that we had,” said Mitchell. “I think after last year he saw what it took to be a good leader. We had a good leader in Nick Lowrimore and Josh wanted to step into those shoes and continue that tradition for us.”
As such, Affleck came into the season healthy and in excellent shape, determined to help his team to its first-ever back-to-back state titles.
During the resulting campaign, a season that ended with another Alta state championship, he proved himself more of a leader and player than even Mitchell had hoped for.
“He took the mantle of leadership and led by example the entire year, which was phenomenal,” said Mitchell. “I couldn’t have asked for more from him, as far as leadership goes with the team.”
“He came into the season in great shape,” Mitchell continued. “He had had nagging injuries for a couple of years but he came in in great shape and was able to play the entire season and pretty much an entire game if I left him out there.”
Not only that, but when his team needed him most, trailing the Skyline Eagles in the 5A semifinals by two goals, he put them on his back.
Affleck headed in three scores that day, including the game-winner, lifting the Hawks to the title game.
“He got in a good grove of heading the ball, we had some good services into the box and he finished ‘em,” said Mitchell. “I think going down two goals woke the kids up and Josh to his credit led the boys in the right direction.”
All the way to another state championship.
Walker Heaton, Desert Hills
With 17 goals scored this season, the second-best total by any player in the 4A classification, it is easy to see why Desert Hills senior Walker Heaton was deserving of MVP honors. The best player on the best team, that sort of thing.
His goal-scoring and facilitating prowess was on full display in the state title game, played against the Park City Miners at Zions Bank Stadium on May 12, as he assisted on the Thunder’s opening goal, a score by best friend and fellow senior Kelton Holt, and added two scores of his own, one on a penalty kick and the other via a try that ricocheted off the inside of the far post.
Heaton also scored two or more goals in four additional games this season, including contests against Cedar, Hurricane, Dixie and Canyon View.
The senior was much more than just a prolific scorer for the Thunder, however.
In fact, his scoring prowess may have been the least important part of his game, despite his team-leading 17 scores.
After all, Heaton was the team’s captain, a vital leader and an integral part of the championship-making “Thunder family."
“Walker really took charge for us this year,” Desert Hills head coach Benji Nelson said. “He has started for me since he was a sophomore, but this year was different. He helped us come together as a team and fight through some tough times.”
Those times included, among other things, injuries to key players like Holt, as well as losses and draws to Desert Hills’ primary competition.
Through it all, Heaton was there.
“Walker helped us come together. He kept us talking, kept us telling each other that we had to be positive, be supportive of each other and be united together,” said Nelson. “He was a huge part of the Thunder family.”
That family mindset was instrumental in the playoff run that led to the Thunder’s first-ever boys soccer state championship, a run that included road victories over Mountain View and Logan, and a dominant showing in the state title game.
“Walker’s worked hard and I love him like he is my own kid,” said Nelson. “There is no one better.”
Jack Terrill, Judge Memorial Catholic
The Judge Memorial Catholic Bulldogs came out of nowhere this season in the 3A classification, winning their first state title in almost a decade.
No one player was responsible for the title-game victory over Morgan or the turnaround year for that matter, but if any Bulldog player deserves credit, it was Jack Terrill.
The sophomore was, simply put, a dynamo for Judge all year, playing an integral role in what proved to be an unstoppable attack.
Terrill finished with a team and state-high 27 goals, one better than teammate Joe Paul, not to mention a nearly identical amount of assists.
“I wasn’t really consistent in taking down every assist so he didn’t have all the correct stats, but I think they are pretty proportional to his goals scored,” Judge head coach Kelly Terrill said. “He had almost as many assists as he did goals.
Making things all the more impressive was the fact that he did so playing a position he was less than familiar with.
“Jack played kind of a false 9 for us and he doesn’t play that position with his club or regional team,” said Terrill. “He usually plays an attacking midfielder position. I asked him to play a different role than what he is used to and he took to it.”
He and Paul, as well as Gedeon Baende, developed a chemistry that proved almost impossible to defend.
“He had great vision, setting up goals for Joe,” said Terrill. “He and Joe worked so well together. Jack’s vision on the field is phenomenal, he is a good athlete and he just did what I asked him to do. I knew we were going to put him in a position where he could be successful, but he meant a lot to our attack and to our team.”
His importance to the team included his role as leader, despite his youth.
“Jack led that (attacking group) on the field, but he was also conscious about what was going off it,” said Terrill. “He has friends that are sophomores that they play at a lower level and he is always trying to help them play at a higher level.”
Tate Reynolds, Waterford
Everyone who was at Zions Bank Stadium on the night of May 12 knows Waterford’s Tate Reynolds, whether they were Ravens fans or supported the rival Rowland Hall Winged Lions.
It was Reynolds, after all, who netted the opening goal of the 2A state championship game, a score which set the Ravens up for success and ultimately propelled them to a 3-0 victory.
“It is easy to point to the championship game. Tate getting that initial goal for us really set us up to finish the job,” Waterford head coach George Shirley said.
Reynolds impact on the Ravens was more than just that one game or goal, however. Rather his performance in the title game was merely more of the same in what has been an unparalleled four years at Waterford.
“Tate has been a leader for us his entire Waterford career,” said Shirley. “He has been the ideal or consummate leader. He’s an academic All-State recipient and he is as talented a cellist as he is a soccer player, which is saying something.”
It is at that, as Reynolds was as dynamic a soccer player as any in the 2A classification.
He moved seamlessly all over the pitch in his time at Waterford, playing every single position. His senior year alone he played up front as a forward, and tallied 16 goals, played as a center midfielder and as a defensive back.
“He is quite the talented soccer player. He has had to play every position for us because he is capable,” said Shirley. "Tate was a miracle worker. We could move things around seamlessly knowing we would have success because of him.”Comment on this story
More than just a talented soccer player, Reynolds was a leader, helping the Ravens to an impressive turnaround this season.
“Tate leads by example,” said Shirley. “He isn’t quick to shout or become negative to his teammates, but instead tries to lift them up.
“He’s shy, quiet, reserved and those qualities don’t always lend themselves to making someone the best leader, but Tate was able to circumvent whatever shyness he had and demonstrated to everyone that he was someone to follow.”