As a junior, Calaveras High School soccer player Andrew Celli felt he had a good enough season to be named the Most Outstanding Offensive Player of the Mother Lode League.
Celli finished the 2018-19 season with 16 goals, four assists and led Calaveras to a second-place finish in the MLL standings. When the all-league honors were announced, Celli did not get named as the Most Outstanding Offensive Player.
Celli didn’t forget the snub and used that as motivation for his senior year. Now, one year later, Celli got the award that eluded him the year before, as he’s the 2019-20 Most Outstanding Offensive Player of the Mother Lode League.
“I was kind of upset,” Celli said about not getting the award as a junior. “I thought, ‘What more could I do to get that?’ So, this year I knew I had to go even further than that. Last year, I set a goal and I reached it and they told me it wasn’t good enough. So, OK, I had to set a new goal.”
Setting goals and scoring goals has never been an issue for Celli. In his senior year, Celli scored 22 goals, had seven assists and also recorded 20 steals. For Calaveras head coach Rob Leetham, Celli was an obvious recipient of the honor.
“The numbers don’t lie,” Leetham said. “He had great numbers, especially when often times he was man-marked. I know this was an award for this year, however, I think what he has done over four years was also recognized by the other league coaches as well and contributed to his receiving this well-deserved award this year.”
In four years as a Calaveras varsity player, Celli scored 49 goals and had 22 assists and 115 steals. There’s no question he was one of the most dangerous scorers in the league and opposing coaches did whatever they could to slow him down.
“Two games in a row, I sacrificed a player to solely man-marking Andrew,” Bret Harte head coach Joel Barnett said. “The first game he got an assist and a goal and the second game he got two goals, all the while with someone tailing him no more than a yard or two away.”
Celli knew that he would have two or three defenders on him every step he took while out on the field, which he looked at as a challenge to overcome.
“I had at least two guys on me every game, so I couldn’t go left or right,” Celli said. “I had to pass back to someone else and hopefully the defender would drop to that ball and I’d get open. But most of the time they were on me.”
Because Celli was a marked man, opponents often got extra physical to slow him down. It never came as a surprise to Celli if he ended up on the turf multiple times during a game.
“I did feel that I had a target on my back,” Celli said. “Most teams tried to get in my head by hitting me and grabbing me, but it never really got to me. I just focused on the game and would let the refs make the calls. If they didn’t make the calls, there’s nothing I could do about it.”
Celli and Calaveras had an outstanding season, however, there was a time during the year where offensive production came to a halt. Calaveras had three straight games end in a tie and in two of those contests, Calaveras scored just one goal. During that time, Celli felt he was in a funk that he just couldn’t shake.
“I was getting frustrated during that stretch,” Celli said. “I did feel that some of that was on me because I had some shots that I missed. I would do my best, obviously, but that was just a streak where I didn’t do well. I was in a slump and couldn’t make my shots.”
Celli got out of his slump and scored eight times in the last three games of the regular season. But the only way to get out of a slump is to keep shooting. For many players, missed shots lead to less shooting. However, Celli knew that if he didn’t shoot, good things wouldn’t happen.
“I know what I’m doing, so when I take those shots and I miss them, I know what I need to do differently the next time,” Celli said. “If you don’t take any risks, you are never going to succeed. People can get mad if I shoot if they want, but eventually we are going to win because of scoring. The more shots you take, the more opportunities you have to score.”
Calaveras finished the season with an overall record of 13-5-3 and went 6-1-3 in league, which put the team in second place. When the playoff brackets were released, Calaveras got the No. 5 seed in division V. The playoff run was a short one, as Calaveras lost to No. 5 Delhi 5-1.
“It hurts because I knew we could have won and should have won,” Celli said. “We just didn’t pull it together and we kind of fell apart. But we still had a great season and I’m sad that it’s over.”
Celli’s Calaveras soccer career may now be completed, but what the Most Outstanding Offensive Player of the Year did in his four years helped bring the program from pretenders to contenders.
“Our boys’ program had gone through some struggles before Andrew arrived, and when I moved over from coaching the girls to the boys four years ago, one of the first things I got right was moving Andrew up to varsity as a freshman,” Leetham said. “He made an impact right away and has had an amazing high school soccer career.”