Local soccer players fill MLL all-league team

Calaveras' Andrew Celli

At the beginning of the season, both Bret Harte and Calaveras high school boys’ soccer teams knew they both had young rosters. Although winning was important, many viewed the 2019 season as one to get younger talent experience and ready for the future.

That younger talent grew up faster than anticipated, as both Bret Harte and Calaveras picked up more victories than they expected. With the season now over, Calaveras was rewarded with five all-league players, while Bret Harte has four.

Calaveras began the season looking like wins would be few and far between. With a 1-5 record, Calaveras turned things around and finished the season 10-8-2 and going 6-1-2 in the Mother Lode League, which was good enough for second place. Unfortunately, once the playoffs started, Calaveras’ luck ran out.

Calaveras got the No. 15 seed in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs and lost to No. 2 Livingston 10-0. Livingston ended up losing in the championship game to No. 1 Galt 2-0.

Calaveras’ Bennie Hesser, Andrew Celli and Dylan Freihofner were placed on the first-team.

Hesser had a strong junior season, as he was tied for first in the Mother Lode League in points with 36. He was second on the team in goals with 13 and first on the team in assists with 10. Defensively, Hesser recorded 30 steals.

Local soccer players fill MLL all-league team

Calaveras' Bennie Hesser

“Much to our delight, it all came together this season for Bennie,” said Calaveras head coach Rob Leetham. “We knew he was capable of doing what he did, however, last season he battled a knee injury. This year, he really became an offensive force in the league and was a strong candidate for Offensive Player of the Year, along with teammate Andrew Celli. He and Andrew were a dynamite one-two punch on offense and gave opposing teams fits. Besides being a terrific player, Bennie was a co-captain and a great leader and teammate.”

If Hesser was the one-punch, Celli was the two. The junior was tied for first in the MLL in points with 36. He led Calaveras in goals with 16 and dished out four assists. He also collected 22 steals. Celli scored three goals in a win over Sonora and then two in a win over Amador.

“Another amazing season for Andrew,” Leetham said. “It’s the second year in a row he’s named to the first-team. He’s a great goal scorer and offensive weapon. He and Bennie make a great combo on offense and we are excited they both have another year left together. Andrew was also a co-captain and a tremendous leader on our team.”

Calaveras’ third first-team player is Freihofner. The defensive specialist recorded 36 steals and helped his team produce five shutouts.

“Dylan is a great athlete and soccer player,” Leetham said. “He was a strong, physical player at center back, but has great skill and finesse as well when needed. He rarely ever got beat. He’s very strong in the air and also had an amazing throw-in that looked like a corner kick. He was a force back there on our back line and really led our defense. We are going to miss him.”

Senior Mateo Alliende and sophomore Jamie Espiritu were placed on the second-team. Alliende scored four goals, had five assists and recorded 33 steals. He was one of Calaveras’ co-captains. Alliende was a three-year varsity player.

“Mateo had a great career during his time here,” Leetham said. “He has been such a great example to all of us of a selfless player and hard worker. He always wanted to be more involved in the offense, but out of necessity agreed to play most of his career on defense. This season we were able to move him to center defensive midfield and not only did he play great defense, he also contributed on offense as well. As a co-captain, he was a tremendous role model for the younger guys with his play on the field and his actions off of it.”

Espiritu finished the season third in the MLL with 24 points. He scored eight goals, had eight assists and collected 38 steals.

“Jaime is one of those rare players who could literally play and excel at any position on the field,” Leetham said. “His offensive stats really stand out, however, his defensive skills are equally as impressive. The sky’s the limit for him for the next two years and we can’t wait to see how he continues to improve.”

The character award went to injured senior Andrew Wydner. During a summer league game, Wydner injured his ACL and missed all of the season. He did, however, get to play a few seconds in the final game of the year against Bret Harte. Wydner made a number of passes to his teammates and took an easy shot that was blocked. Although he watched the majority of the season from the sideline, Wydner stayed involved with the team as much as possible.

Local soccer players fill MLL all-league team

Calaveras' Andrew Wydner

“This was a no-brainer for us to nominate Andrew for this award,” Leetham said. “After suffering a season-ending ACL injury last summer, Andrew still wanted to be an active member of our team and was a huge support to the players and coaching staff. He was one of our captains, was a great role model for the team, is an honor roll-type student and active in the community and other programs at the school.”

Hesser, Garrett Hesser, Alliende and Wydner all made the all-academic team.

Although Bret Harte didn’t have the same success as Calaveras, the Bullfrogs continued to improve as the season went on. Bret Harte finished the Mother Lode League season 2-7-1.

Bret Harte junior Manny Nava was placed on the first-team. Nava recorded the third-most votes by Mother Lode League coaches. Not only was Nava respected by the coaches in the Mother Lode League, but also by his teammates. Nava was awarded the team MVP and was a team captain.

“I wish I could clone Manny and place him all over the field,” said Bret Harte head coach Joel Barnett. “If he wasn’t needed so badly in the back, he might have well been our lead scorer. His play is physical, yet clean and he reads the game well, meaning he sees a situation shaping up and heads off to deal with it before most players even get a read on it.”

Junior Tyler Crawford got placed on the second-team and was also the character award recipient. Crawford missed out on being a first-team player by only one vote. He was also on the all-academic team with a grade point average of 4.2

Local soccer players fill MLL all-league team

Bret Harte's Tyler Crawford

“Tyler was thrust into the holding midfield position, which is in effect the ‘quarterback’ of the team,” said Barnett. “The majority of distribution comes from that spot. He plays in a very physical position deep in the center of the field, yet didn’t draw a single yellow card all season. He played every minute of every game this winter, often while super sick. He exhibits the team-first demeanor that is common amongst winners. I’ve never heard him swear or even say anything untoward about anyone, ever. He’s a young man of high character.”

Sophomore Jan Velazquez and junior Martin Kafka were also placed on the second team.

“Juan is our offensive leader and exhibits a super-high technical ability,” Barnett said. “Once we corral his dribbling impulses, he has the ability to be Offensive Player of the Year in the future.”

As for Kafka, Barnett said, “After a series of concussions as goalie in youth and club soccer, this year Martin was converted to outside fullback. Quite simply, the contra-flow almost never came through his side of the field. He was clampdown on his side. And he was eager to get involved down the field taking shots from the outside back position.”

Crawford, Cooper Morlan and Benjamin Snow made the all-academic team.

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