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High school soccer: Casey Black was pure gold for Darts this season in earning Deseret News Mr. Soccer title

SHARE High school soccer: Casey Black was pure gold for Darts this season in earning Deseret News Mr. Soccer title

Davis striker Casey Black keeps the press clipping that describes the beginning of his odyssey from being a really good soccer player to being the state's best player on the last page of a scrapbook his grandmother, Maxine Black, made for him.

"Davis nearly opened the scoring 10 seconds into the match when Hillcrest keeper Chris Jessen denied Casey Black on a breakaway," wrote the Deseret News in describing the opening moments of Davis' 2-1 quarterfinal loss to Hillcrest a year ago.

With star teammate Gentrie Maag, whom Black adored and looked up to, sidelined with a scary back injury, the onus was largely on Black, then a junior, to get his team to the semifinals.

Black did score Davis' lone goal in the game, but he also missed five one-on-one chances, including the early one, and he and his team came up short.

"I choked," Black says much more succinctly.

"That's probably one of the hardest losses that I've ever had because I looked up to Gentrie so much that season, and to have him hurt the last half of the season and to know that I had the chance to make it to the semis for him — and maybe even further — made that just a terrible game."

To his eternal credit, however, Black didn't let the gut-wrenching defeat ruin him as a soccer player. To the contrary, he used it to become a much greater one.

Black fed off what happened to him in that fateful quarterfinal game in 2009 and used it as motivation to make sure he never endured that type of pain again.

He worked extraordinarily hard from the end of the 2009 season to the start of the 2010 season, and once he finally got on the pitch this spring, the results were spectacular.

Black scored at least once in his first 12 games, found the net in 15 of Davis' 16 regular-season games, contributed in the postseason despite sustaining a painful hip flexor, led his team to a state championship and led the state in scoring with 27 goals.

Add it all up, and it's pretty easy to see why, in the eyes of the Deseret News, he enjoyed — far and away — the best individual season of anyone in the state of Utah. As a result, he is the obvious choice for Mr. Soccer in 2010, becoming the third recipient of the award, following in the footsteps of teammate Josh Hernandez, who won it in 2009, and Viewmont's Colton Cook, who won it in 2008.

No one — not even Black himself — believed he would be the runaway winner of the Mr. Soccer award a year after Hernandez graduated, yet here he stands at the end of the 2010 season, having just completed a truly phenomenal campaign.

Ultimately, so much of what he accomplished this spring can be traced back to that quarterfinal loss to Hillcrest 12 months earlier.

"He never forgot what it felt like to not finish and — in his mind — let down our team," said Davis coach Souli Phongsavath. "And he played that way — to never, ever let it happen again.

"When you're faced with adversity — something that doesn't go your way — are you gonna give up or use it as motivation? The really great players use it as motivation; they use it to get better."

Black left no doubt whatsoever this spring that he's truly one of the great players.

A solid striker a year ago, when he scored 13 goals and often finished off the phenomenal work of Hernandez, Maag and others, Black became the catalyst behind Davis' immense success this year.

He scored lots of goals, he helped set up others, he created problems for the opposition with his incredible work rate and — all along the way — he was the unquestioned leader of Davis' team.

"I think he was in the shadows of some great players last year, and I think when those great players graduated, he knew this was his time and his team," said Phongsavath. "He knew he needed to lead, not only by example but vocally as well. To his credit, he did that.

"He took the team on his shoulders, and he led us."

That was pretty obvious to anyone who got to watch the Darts play this spring. Up until the end of the year, when Black sustained a hip flexor and had to gut it out for his team in the postseason, Black was simply peerless every time he stepped on a soccer pitch.

Offensively, he started out hot and stayed hot throughout the entire regular season. Black finished with 27 goals, which is the most goals for a 5A player since Layton star Kyle Christensen, one of the greatest players in state history, had that many back in 2003.

In getting to 27 goals, Black finished with five hat-tricks, scored in both rivalry games against Viewmont, and was simply consistent throughout the regular season — amazingly consistent despite the fact that defenses were geared to stop him during the second half of the season and despite the fact that Phongsavath frequently subbed him out in an effort to not run up the score in blowout victories.

With Black, though, it was hardly just about the scoring. Indeed, his interplay with teammates was stellar, and — perhaps most impressively — his work rate was almost always extremely high, as he'd frequently win the ball back for the Darts in their opponents' attacking third.

Phongsavath called that latter skill "pure heart and hustle," and Black wore those two characteristics on his sleeve all season.

"When he wins those 50-50 balls that aren't even 50-50 — they're 75-25 balls — his teammates are just inspired," said Phongsavath. "He did a great job of finding the net, but more importantly to me, he set the tone for us defensively."

And all along the way this spring, Black exuded confidence in whatever he did, and that undoubtedly rubbed off on his other teammates, as Davis finished with a 19-1 record, a 5A state title and a mind-boggling 72-4 goal differential.

"I think the big difference from last year to this year is he had that confidence," said Phongsavath. "I think last year for a little while he played in some games with it, but I think this year he knew he was good. To play with that type of swagger — and to back it up — is important. The special players do that.

"A lot of people have confidence, but they won't play that way. But he did — he played with a swagger whenever he was out there."

e-mail: drasmussen@desnews.com