Sacrifice is defined as surrendering something important for the sake of something greater.
This spring, each of the four boys prep soccer classifications boasted a young man who, over the course of his high school career, gave up something unique. It was from that sacrifice that a leader was developed, ultimately aiding each in directing their respective teams to state championships in 2013.
As a result, those four leaders — who each guided their teams from a different position on the field — have been named the Deseret News MVPs for the 2013 season. They are Aaron Caprio of Lehi, Josh Ludlow of Bountiful, Ben Powell of Wasatch and Levi Lopez of American Leadership Academy.
Sarah Thomas is a graduate of the University of Utah and has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prior to the start of the season, Lehi coach Jerry Preisendorf presented Caprio, his senior captain, a simple question.
“First, I asked, ‘Do you want to win state?’”
The defender, of course, said yes, and then his coach offered a suggestion.
“I told him I thought our best option to get him the most touches, our best option to win, was if he played on the back line,” Preisendorf said. “He said 'OK,' and that was the end of it.”
Caprio, a player who does the most damage with the ball in his possession, had previously played defense for Lehi off and on, and the setup was a successful one for the Pioneers.
Making the move permanent, while limiting Caprio’s scoring chances, provided a wealth of opportunities for the senior to direct traffic — and the Pioneers ultimately reaped a multitude of rewards.
Lehi won its first Region 4 title with a record of 7-3-0 in league play and finished 14-5-1 overall. Each of the five losses, while a handful more than the team goal of a perfect record, provided a learning opportunity that inched the group ever closer to the state championship — the school's second in four years and the first in 5A.
“He is a hard worker; he’s a leader; he’s vocal,” Presiendorf said of Caprio’s leadership style. “He was a captain for a reason, and he filled the role very well.”
The coach went on to say Caprio’s greatest improvement during his four seasons was in learning to keep a level head. A player who was given a number of red cards as a freshman improved to just four yellow cards during his entire senior year.
“He knew that as a defender, he must keep himself in the game,” Presiendorf said.
Caprio will now move on to play college soccer for the University of Portland alongside Brighton forward Matt Coffey, this year's Mr. Soccer.
As a freshman, Ludlow tried out as a field player for Bountiful High.
He was cut from the team.
Days later, word traveled through the competitive soccer community and back to Braves coach Lou Plank that Ludlow had experience as a goalkeeper.
Plank invited the young man back to try out again, and four years later that same young man, who has turned into an entirely different player, performed a crucial role in the Braves’ 4A championship run this season.
“Talk to him now and I think he’s very happy with his decision,” Plank said, adding that after the final whistle of the championship match, Ludlow was the last person to leave the pitch.
“He knelt by the corner flag. He wanted to savor that time as long as he could,” Plank said. “It was an emotional moment. He was probably thinking about the path he had taken to get there.”
This past spring, the senior anchored the Bountiful defense as the team went 14-3-1 overall and 8-1-1 during the regular season en route to winning the Region 6 title. The Braves recorded four shutouts and played six overtime games, going 4-1-1 in those matches. Of the four overtime victories, two were in the state tournament and required shootouts to determine the winner.
“We knew all along that Josh does a stellar job as a goalkeeper in the run of play and set pieces,” Plank said. “We spent a lot of time this season practicing shootouts and found out very quickly he is a very fine line defender, too.”
In the Braves’ semifinal match against Murray, Ludlow kicked the final Bountiful PK and then returned to the net to block the Spartans’ final attempt and secure his team's berth in the title game.
“He brings an intangible to the position. A lot of that is just Josh, and a lot of that is training,” Plank continued, explaining that the team's goalkeeper coach, Brian Simmons, was a two-time champion as the Bountiful ‘keeper and has spent a lot of time working with Ludlow.
“(Ludlow) is the best example of any proverb you pick about hard work and sweet results."
About the time Powell entered high school, he decided he was going to give up drinking soda; it was slowing him down on the soccer field.
“Since he was young,” Wasatch coach Dawain Wheatley said, “he decided he was going to constantly improve. He has always been self-motivated.”
In return for his constant work, Powell has found success in every venture he has taken on.
During his four years on the team, the Wasps won four consecutive region championships and two state titles, including doing so this season with a perfect 20-0-0 record. Powell, a forward, was the second-leading scorer in the state with 28 goals, totaling 54 for his career.
Away from the field, Powell took Advanced Placement and college-level courses and, with a perfect 4.0 GPA, earned co-valedictorian honors.
“The National Federation of High Schools has the slogan, ‘student first, athlete second.’ He is a prime example of that,” Wheatley said.
“When you look at him, and if you visit with him, he is almost like a loveable teddy bear of a kid,” the coach continued. “But when you put him in a competitive environment — in the classroom, on the field — he is like a bulldog. He gets after it.”
In addition to hard work, Wheatley credits Powell for setting himself up for success.
“He always puts himself in the right position at the right time,” he said. “And he surrounds himself with good people.”
Powell is planning to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then extend his soccer career at Dixie State College. Those are two more roles Wheatley feels his captain will find success in.
“He helps people around him to be better.”
Lopez began his freshman year at Payson High before soon realizing he wanted to be across town at American Leadership Academy.
In making the decision to change schools, Lopez was also giving up his freshman soccer season.
As soon as he got an opportunity to take the field, however, Lopez quickly made up for lost time.
“He had to sit out that year,” said ALA coach Steve Solen, “but then he started his sophomore, junior and senior years.”
Solen describes the midfielder as a “very quiet and humble kid who wants to just go out and play” and noted that “the No. 1 thing we saw his sophomore year was he had great ball control but no speed.”
Lopez made up for that with hustle and communication.
“The biggest thing is his hustle everyday. Even if we are losing 5-0, he is still giving 100 percent,” the coach said. “He is constantly talking to his teammates on the field. He does a great job of being able to find them with the ball.”
That giving spirit is illustrated by his senior season statistics. After totaling just eight goals in his first two years on the roster, Lopez was one of three ALA players, along with Cobi Warren and Brannon Tulley, to score 20 goals in 2013. Lopez also dished out 35 assists, accounting for an incredible 55 of the team's 94 total goals.
“He has never been a selfish player,” Solen said. “He always wanted the team to do well.”
Those numbers were a crucial piece in powering ALA to its first state championship. That is a piece of history — one celebrated with fire engines and a parade through town — that Lopez said will always be quite special.