The Sun's boys soccer players of the year
Published: Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 7:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at 9:19 p.m.
When it came to delivering key scores on the soccer field, none in the area compared to forwards Tyler Miller-Jones of Eastside and Lafayette’s Josue Diaz.
Time and time again, the duo kicked in critical goals en route to district titles and regional playoff wins.
Miller-Jones, a junior, finished with 31 goals with 14 assists for the Rams (20-6), who dropped from Class 3A to 2A this past season and reached their third straight regional final. Diaz, a senior who led the area in scoring for the second-straight season, had 53 goals with 14 assists for the 1A Hornets (17-1), who reached the regional semifinals.
Miller-Jones and Diaz share honors as The Gainesville Sun’s Small School Players of the Year in boys soccer.
Senior Isaiah Brinza, a midfielder for the Buchholz Bobcats (12-4-1) who played in the tough District 1-5A, garnered The Sun’s Big Schools Player of the Year honor after scoring 10 goals with eight assists and was a tough defender. It was a rebuilding year for the Bobcats, state semifinalists a year ago, who started the season without 13 seniors.
“After playing so well in the playoffs last year, filling in for a sick John Schratt, we had high hopes for Isaiah this year,” Buchholz coach Andy Aulick said. “He exceeded our expectations with explosive, dominating performances on the field. He was a leader on and off the field but mostly with his intensity and dynamics during games. He was a pleasure to coach and fun to watch play.”
Eastside coach Ron Messick would say the same about Miller-Jones, who scored all three goals in beating a talented Keystone Heights team in the district final (1-0) and regional semifinal (2-1). He also had three goals in the regional quarterfinal win over Ocala Trinity Catholic and scored the only goal in a 2-1 loss to Orlando Bishop Moore in the regional final.
“To explain how important MJ is to our success is really summed up by the numbers,” Messick said. “He scored in 19 of 21 games he played in, and out of the five games he missed, we lost three. He also scored seven goals from the district championship to our regional final.
“He was vital and dominating. He has the ability to take over a game and win it.”
Miller-Jones would like to take the Rams a step further in his senior season.
“It has been hard becoming district champions and getting in the elite eight three years in a row,” he said. “Hopefully, I can break that streak as a senior and captain and lead my team to a final four and possibly a state championship.
“My mom used to teach me a quote from Sir Winston Churchill that says, ‘History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.’ I’ve always kept that close to my heart, trying to prove everyone that I come to compete in everything I do.”
Lafayette enjoyed success in boys soccer led by the play of Diaz, who had four games of scoring four goals and had a season-high five in a 6-2 win over Tallahassee Maclay.
“It was one of the best seasons we have ever played,” Diaz said. “We really wanted it this year, but we didn’t get far. A lot of people started noticing us, and I was proud of that for a small community like ours.”
The forward chipped a bone in his right foot in the 3-0 district final win against Maclay. Despite his injury, he continued to play. He injured his left ankle in the regional semifinals against St. Joseph Academy, but came back to play, scoring a goal, but running out of time in a 4-3 loss.
“I was able to get back on the field and me and my cousin (Ismael Moreno) were able to score right away,” Diaz said. “We were starting to catch up, but we couldn’t finish it. We needed more time.”
“He’s a very talented guy that whenever we needed him, he stepped up and delivered,” said Lafayette first-year coach Shawn Jackson of Diaz. “Although he is really talented and can do spectacular things, he could also do the simple things too in motivating the team. He always played like it was a tie game or we were one goal down, he never gave up.”
Brinza said, considering the influx of new players on the team, the Bobcats didn’t do so bad this season.
“I felt we did pretty well until our first semifinal district game (against Neptune Beach Fletcher),” Brinza said. “We dominated that game, but somehow we still lost 1-0.
“We had a great season. I know we didn't do as bad as everyone thought we would. We still have that high standard of our soccer team being tops in Gainesville as city champs.”