The competitiveness in high school boys soccer this season was as good as it’s ever been from 6A through 2A. That excitement continued into the playoffs where upsets and great games created a lot of uncertainty to close the season.
Amid the chaos, one of the biggest consistencies was the stalwart play of the this year’s Deseret News boys soccer Players of the Year. Most were goal-scorers, while another set a recorded for fewest goals allowed, but all were the best of the best in their respective classification throughout the season.
Here’s a look at the 2021 Deseret News boys soccer Players of the Year.
6A Player of the Year
Stockton Short, Weber, Sr., GK
In Weber’s march to an undefeated state championship season, it set a new state record by only conceding three goals in 19 games. The previous state record was five.
As far as senior keeper Stockton Short is concerned, it was still three goals too many.
“Talk about a fierce competitor, nothing upset Stockton more than being scored on even in training. Winning is always Stockton’s first objective. There was never a doubt that he was in it to win it. Stockton gives a lot of credit to the defensive players that always had his back,” said Weber coach Jan Swift.
That relentless desire to keep everything out of his own net helped Short recorded 16 shutouts this season and he was the backbone of a stout defense.
Getting scored on in the championship was certainly disappointing, but Short was able to make up for it in the penalty shootout as he recorded a key save to help Weber win a second straight state championship.
Short made big saves all year, and his calm demeanor in the shootout made all the difference for his teammates.
“I had total confidence in the guys. In the huddle before the penalty shootout I said, ‘I’ve got your back if you’ve got mine,’ and that’s exactly what happened,” said Short.
5A Player of the Year
Edgar Garcia, Wasatch, Sr., MF
Few players in Utah created havoc quite like Wasatch midfielder Edgar Garcia did this season.
The senior four-year starter recorded 14 goals and 16 assists this season as he guided the Wasps to the 5A state championship.
“The last two years he was a team captain and leader for all players. Edgar has a high soccer IQ. He sees what is developing on the field and puts himself into dangerous situations,” said Wasatch coach Jared Hendry. “This year he took advantage of playing behind some potent forwards. He started to see how he could be a dangerous player and capitalized on many of the opportunities he had to score and create scoring opportunities for other players.”
He was at his best in the playoffs, and contributed to the score sheet in a variety of different ways.
In a 2-1 quarterfinal win over Spanish Fork, Garcia recorded the game-winning assist as he headed the ball over two defenders to an onrushing player. In the semifinals he scored the game-winning penalty kick in overtime. Then in the championship, his presence at the opportune time forced Skyline into a misplay and the resulting own goal.
“His influence, knowledge, and abilities have helped players on each of his teams become better players and all-around men. Edgar is a fantastic player and person,” said Hendry.
4A Player of the Year
Niihau Siaou Chin, Juan Diego, Sr., F
When Niihau Siaou Chin moved to Utah from Tahiti prior to his junior year of high school, one of the things he was most excited about was getting a chance to play competitive soccer in America.
He showed flashes of his potential last season by scoring four goals in two games, but then COVID-19 shut everything down.
With an opportunity to build momentum throughout his junior season, Chin showed just what a dynamic player he could be this season, recording 19 goals and six assists for the 15-3 Soaring Eagle.
“He’s a phenomenal player and an even better person. His work ethic is amazing and I saw the time and energy he put into the offseason and knew this season would be a good one for him,” said Juan Diego coach Joseph Alamilla. “He managed to score despite getting double-teamed for the back half of the season. We will miss him next year and will miss his leadership, his positive attitude and his willingness to do whatever he needed to do to increase the team’s chances of success.”
Upon learning he’d been voted 4A Player of the Year, Chin went out of his way to contact the Deseret News to thank his coaches, teammates, host family in Utah and his family back home.
“Winning the 4A Player of the Year is something that I would like to share with those who helped me to get there. And for whom I’m really thankful for, because without them this award wouldn’t have been mine,” said Chin.
3A Player of the Year
Brayden Gonder, Delta, Sr., MF
Brayden Gonder’s skill in 3A was unmatched this season as he terrorized opposing defenses to the tune of 33 goals and 20 assists.
What he did off the field was perhaps more important, according to Delta coach Pedro Gonzalez, as it helped Delta’s team come together and make a run into the 3A semifinals.
Academically very smart as he scored a 35 on his ACT as a freshman, Gonder went out of his way to tutor teammates who needed some extra help to become academically eligible for the season.
Once he stepped on the field, he had such a great knack for putting the ball in the back of the net, but remained humble and respectful throughout.
“Brayden is better as a person than as a soccer player. During our last two regular-season games he could have scored another five or more goals, who knows. But Brayden was looking to assist his friend that never had scored a goal in high school. Finally, during the last few minutes of the last game his friend scored, and with tears in his eyes he went to hug Brayden,” said Gonzalez.
When his teammates didn’t score, Gonzalez said Gonder always found a way to keep it positive and simply said they were “unlucky” not to score.
2A Player of the Year
Shawn Curtis, RSL Academy High School, Sr., F
When Shawn Curtis had the ball at his feet, great things happened for RSL Academy High School in 2021.
Curtis scored 18 goals and added 14 assists and in the process led RSL to its first state title in school history. Perhaps his most impressive game of the entire season was his last, as he recorded four goals to lead RSL to the 6-1 win over Waterford in the 2A state championship game.
“Shawn has been a fantastic player for us this year and the whole time he has been at the school. He worked extremely hard and was a great captain for the team. Shawn always played with a smile on his face and would encourage the other boys throughout every game,” said RSL Academy coach Oli Brittain.
He said Curtis’ unselfish play in the championship game exemplified the type of player he was.
“I will miss having Shawn on the field but will also just miss having his personality around. He was a fantastic captain and teammate and a real credit to the school,” said Curtis.