By Jack Frederick firstname.lastname@example.org | 265-7824 | Twitter: @_jackfrederick
At the end of a full season of Wilson County soccer, 15 players rose to the top.
An impressive cast of players — representing six county schools — who meant a lot to their respective programs were named to the Wilson Youth Soccer Association’s second-ever All-County team.
Standing out above the rest, Fike’s Kevin Mendoza was named the newest Wilson County Mr. Soccer.
“I feel honored,” Mendoza said. “All the hard work led up to me being Mr. Soccer and I’d really like to thank my teammates and coaches.”
At the midfielder position, Mendoza is joined by Greenfield’s Jeremy Alvarez, DASH senior Eric Barry, Fike junior John T. Conoley and Greenfield junior Sebastian Partida.
At forward, Wilson Christian’s Gabe Barnes, Beddingfield’s Apolinar Fuentes, DASH senior Salvador Guzman and Fike junior Gavin Wheeler shone through as the top strikers.
Fike defenders Oc Bolt and Mason Lee were joined by Hunt senior Landon Gesell and Greenfield’s Will Powell on the all-county backline, while Wilson Christian’s Harrison Parker and Mason Ross of Fike represent two of the best goalkeepers in Wilson County.
All season long, Mendoza drew extra attention from any defense he faced.
“He’s everything you could ask for in a player for what he provides from an attacking standpoint,” Fike head coach Chris Mizelle said, “He gave us every bit of an engine we needed to score some goals this year.”
But even after the senior wrapped up his final campaign with the Demons, that attention hasn’t left him.
After scoring 17 goals and assisting on 17 others, Mendoza has racked up plenty of postseason awards. He was named to the 3-A All-Big East team, the North Carolina Soccer Coaches Association all-state team and lands on the all-county team for the second time in as many years.
Yet among all those awards this season, Mendoza said being named Mr. Soccer stands out above them all.
“I feel very happy (about) that,” Mendoza said. “Being named Mr. Soccer is one of the greatest accomplishments anyone could get.”
The recognition comes not only for Mendoza’s skill, but how important he was to his team in a successful season.
Riding, in part, the talent of Mendoza, the Fike boys soccer team had one of its best seasons in recent memory. The Demons won the 3-A Big East Conference for the second year in a row and reached the third round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs, which marks the deepest run for the program since 2011.
His ability to not only drum up offense, but to create opportunities for his teammates — or anything else that was asked of him — is what Mizelle said made him stand out for the top award among other talented candidates.
“There were a few kids deserving in different ways, but the thing about him is the overall consistency he brought,” Mizelle said. “If you look over his career, he has 49 goals and 47 assists.”
The teammates who joined Mendoza on the all-county team were a mix of second-time honorees and new faces. Overall, the Demons placed a player at every position and represent the largest faction on the all-county team.
“We play a very difficult schedule and we were able to garner some good results out of a very difficult schedule,” Mizelle said, “It’s nice to see them represented after playing a tough schedule and winning quite a few tough games.”
Wheeler, a junior, garners the honor for the first time as the only Fike player to outscore Mendoza. Wheeler scored 22 goals and assisting on 12 others, racking up the most points on the team.
Lee, a defender, and Conoley, a midfielder, made the all-county team for the second year, while Bolt and Ross join them for the first time. Ross, the team’s goalkeeper, is the only freshman in the county to be honored.
“It’s great to see a freshman represented up there,” Mizelle said. “Mason stepped in and provided some great goalkeeping day in and day out. We’ve been lucky at Fike to have some capable goalkeeping every year I’ve been here.”
Wilson Christian goalkeeper Harrison Parker joins Ross as an equally capable goal-stopper.
“He was the only keeper named to all-county last year and he had a stronger season this year than last,” Chargers’ head coach Don Samson said. “He was credited with 10 shutouts on the season out of 26 games played, had 141 saves. Just phenomenal. His leadership out of the back, his strength, really a key reason why we got as far as we did.”
With Parker holding down in the team’s own goal, teammate Gabe Barnes proved to be a huge threat for opposing keepers, scoring 26 goals for a Wilson Christian team that reached the North Carolina Christian School Association 2-A title game.
“Just his speed and creativity, his non-stop aggression up front, just made him hard for other teams to deal with,” Samson said. “He was a huge asset to us also.”
For the North Carolina Independent Schools Association 1-A champion Knights, Alvarez, Powell and Partida represent three leaders who aided Greenfield to its success.
“It’s awesome,” Greenfield head coach Eric Nguyen said. “They were all captains, all seniors or juniors and they all led in different ways.”
Alvarez led through scoring, tallying 42 goals, including four that were game-winners, to account for 70% of the Knights’ scoring power in 2019.
Partida, who plays the same position, led in a different way. He scored six goals, but assisted on 18 others, opening up opportunities for others to score. When it came time for a crucial moment, though, Partida scored the game-winning goal in the state championship match against Neuse Christian.
Powell, a center back, provided a consistency on the backline game after game, leading the Knights to nine shutouts. A defender, he still found a way to score 10 goals and assist on four others.
Gesell, who was named an all-county performer for the second time, represented Hunt once again after a stellar senior season as captain. Gesell commanded the defense for the Warriors, which caught the attention of the rest of the county for his goal-stopping prowess.
“Landon has been a leader from the very beginning," Hunt head coach Phil Long said. "He’s one of those leaders that leads correctly, he leads by example. He lets his action speak for themselves and that to me is true leadership. With the type of season we had, the season we were having, that type of leadership was very necessary to help keep the team positive and moving forward.”
DASH seniors Eric Barry and Guzman were chosen after being key leaders who contributed to the team’s deep run in the North Carolinians for Home Education Athletic Commission playoffs.
Eric Barry, son of head coach Steve Barry, scored 12 goals, including three-game winners, and served as a coach of sorts on the field during his final season playing for his father.
“Eric is the captain on the field and it’s like having a coach out there,” Steve Barry said. “I guess the word that defines him is relentless. He’s one of those — like in any sport — they’re the coaches kid, the gamer. The one that you have to drag kicking and screaming off the field. That’s him. He plays full throttle every time.”
Eric Barry’s crucial goal helped the team advance to the NCHEAC finals, which was the deepest run for DASH in program history. In many other moments, Barry could rely on long-time teammate Guzman, who he grew up playing with him in the WYSA. Guzman landed on the list for the first time as a DASH player, but made the inaugural all-county team last year for Community Christian.
Guzman scored 16 goals on the year with his new team, proving to be a dangerous scorer on any field he played on.
“Sal is a terrific finisher,” Steve Barry said. “I’ve always said great goal-scorers are not coached. God makes great goal-scorers. They have that ‘it factor’ and he’s got that ‘it factor.’”
Beddingfield sophomore Apolinar Fuentes led the Bruins in goals scored with 1.3 per game, or 22 goals over 17 games, and stands out after playing a part in more than half the team’s goals in 2019.
“He deserves all the recognition he can get," Beddingfield head coach Mark Aldrich said of Fuentes. "I think he’s been the leading goal-scorer the last two years. I can put him anywhere I want and he’ll do fine. He mostly played striker this year. He’s one of the fastest guys around. He’s talented and deserves this recognition. He’s a good kid, good student, good athlete.”
In the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference, Fuentes scored more goals than any other player for the second year in a row, and he also led Beddingfield in assists, helping the team to an 11-6-2 finish in 2019.
Fuentes scored the game-winning goal against Wilson Christian this season, and he sat out against Greenfield due to injury.