Huskies celebrate state title
By Chris Freud
EDWARDS – Really, the better question was “Who didn’t win awards?”
Battle Mountain soccer held its postseason banquet Thursday night and, as cheesy as it sounds, everyone won. After all, sitting at the front of the room was big golden soccer ball, aka the school’s first state championship trophy in soccer, and everyone’s getting their name on the biggest prize of all.
And while Thursday night was part of the continuing celebration of said title, the Huskies went home with handfuls of hardware.
The Huskies have the Coach of the Year on many levels in David Cope, the Slope Player of the Year in Joe LyBarger and even their first regional all-American in Erick Briones
Befitting a state champion, the Huskies have seven all-state players in some form or another from first team to honorable mention. All-league? Eight selections.
Merely, by alphabetical order, here they are:
Simply a defensive rock. The Huskies have a tradition of stout defenders, dating back to the likes Evie Gonzalez, Connor Drumm and Harrison Brown. Briones fits in just fine in this good company. Not is he all-state and all-league, but he is the school’s first National Soccer Coaches Association of America regional all-American.
Cope’s take: “He wasn’t just a defender. He could hit 50-yard passes onto feet. He had an incredible knack to put the guys into space. He really grew. He’s an example of a kid who grew within the program. He spent two years at JV and became a starter.”
He’s first-team all state and with good reason. Diaz emerged as a multi-faceted weapon with 17 goals and 13 assists. Perhaps, most importantly, Diaz also moved back to defense in key point at the end of the regular season. Simply a tremendous two-way player.
Cope’s take: “In so many ways, he’s one of the top players in the state of Colorado.”
He will forever be linked with Battle Mountain’s shootout wins at Evergreen and against Palmer Ridge. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been that surprising that Espinoza would shine between the pipes. He had 11 shutouts and allowed eight goals in 20 games. Both marks should stand for a long time.
Cope’s take: “Here’s an incredible stat. He faced eight penalties, and they scored three goals, missed one and Christian saved four. What are the odds that he has more saves than goals-against?”
He will forever be remembered for making the final penalty kick to win state and his ensuing run around Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. While that’s a snapshot moment, Garcia also made his mark as a clutch goal-scorer. If it was a big game, Garcia scored – Cheyenne Mountain, Steamboat Springs or Broomfield.
Cope’s take: “It was very fitting the biggest personality on our team had the final penalty kick. Heivan is kind of symbolic of our group – underrated, very good technically and loves the game.”
He comes from an accomplished athletic family, and he’s established himself in his own right. The stats – 24 goals and 12 assists – are impressive enough. He’s the first Battle Mountain player to win the 4A Slope Player of the Year since 2009 (Connor Tedstrom) and the first LyBarger since 2008 and 2007 (Emily, one of his three older sisters) to win the honor. More so was his leadership.
Cope’s take: “Joe went from being a very talented athlete to being a leader of a diverse group. He went from coming to the sideline with an opinion to having a question. He would ask what was best for the team.”
Likely the engine of the Huskies’ title drive. Rodriguez had a subtle, but vital role going back on defense when others like Gunnar Wilson and Diaz moved up. Please note that the two players mentioned below were also 4A Slope Players of the Year in their day.
Cope’s take: “Diego fits in the mold of other players we’ve had like Tyler Cole and Erik Garcia. The other thing about Diego is that he was the most passionate leader on the team.”
Simply dangerous. If you watched Huskies soccer, if Trujillo got to the end line and broke toward the goal, something good was going to happen. The junior had nine goals and team-high 17 assists. Trujillo to LyBarger was a traditional refrain.
Cope’s take: “He was probably our most dangerous 1-on-1 player we’ve ever had. It was the same move every time, but no one could stop it. He does that hip-swivel and goes the other way. It just amazed me.”
So the question at the beginning of the season was “Where does Gunnar go?” Many of Cope’s colleagues felt that Wilson, formerly a forward, would be a liability at left-defensive back. Wrong. Wilson was sixth on an explosive team in scoring, and his defense was spotless.
Cope’s take: “He is the epitome of a modern defensive back. He was great with the ball and he was great defending. He influenced the way other teams played. There’s all this talk about scouting the other team, but if you can impose your style of play, forget the scouting.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.