Ambition and competitive drive got the better of Leo Peralta.
Before turning 14, Peralta lived most of his life with family in the river town of Fray Bentos, Uruguay. It was a generally positive life but one that offered few avenues for upward mobility.
So before his freshman year, Peralta followed his father, and his future, to Waco. With the United States dangling the prospect of a college soccer career and, perhaps, a professional one too, Peralta moved to be with his father, a native of Uruguay who followed his heart to Waco.
After two full seasons with the Midway boys’ soccer team, the Uruguayan superstar sophomore has few, if any, regrets.
“Of course I miss my family,” Peralta said. “I do like it here. I like it over there too. I kind of try to look for my future. What is my future? I go for it. There’s my goal. I look for it and I’ll make it.”
After a season spent scorching opposing defenses, the underclassman is the 2012 Super Centex Player of the Year.
Peralta once required a translator to get through basic conversations in English, but nearly two full years spent with Midway’s foreign language staff and conversing with new friends have given Peralta new confidence.
“It had to be tough on him coming in,” Midway coach Tim O’Leary said. “He’s a well-built, solid kid, so you don’t really look at him as a freshman last year. He was real quiet. He didn’t speak very good English at all. The guys took to him and his English just got so much better just hanging around the guys. I think confidence kicked in last year and everything kicked in.”
While his language skills needed development, his ability on the soccer field was pristine from the start. As a freshman, Peralta hit for 27 goals, but he did 10 better this season as the tip of the spear in Midway’s attack.
His development as a sophomore centered around his ability to cultivate the use of his left foot.
“I just think in general the whole first year he’d gotten better overall,” O’Leary said. “But I noticed that everything went to his right. As you get older everyone’s going to start pushing you to the left side. I told him sooner or later, you’ll start getting marked out of games. He doesn’t have to have an extremely good left, he’s just got to be able to use it.”
Not unlike Uruguayan national team icon Luis Suarez, Peralta made his mark largely by shielding off defenders with a tricky arsenal of body moves and unleashing a devastating flurry of shots.
But he used his right foot almost exclusively until this season. O’Leary worked with Peralta in developing his left, which added an attack angle toward goal and another way to baffle opposing keepers.
As a quick-footed striker Peralta was indespensible for Midway this season. The Panthers enjoyed one of their best regular seasons ever, plowing through the opposition without losing a game.
But Peralta was at his best in the playoffs. With Midway stampeding past teams with bloated scorelines — including a comprehensive 4-1 win in sectionals over Waco High, which had knocked out Midway the year before — Peralta was in rare form. He scored twice in the win over the Lions and had seven goals in just six playoff games.
Midway’s season ended disappointingly in the regional final, but Peralta certainly played his part in getting the Panthers there.
“Through the year we were talking about it, we wanted to make it far,” Peralta said. “We wanted to win state. We work as a team always. At first, we didn’t work that well, our first games. But we went through it and we worked it out.”
Coach of the Year:
Mike Chapman University
One day during a preseason practice, the Trojans gathered and had a pressing question for Mike Chapman.
“They were like, ‘Coach, why does everybody say that they’re going to be able to pay us back this year?” Chapman said. “We want to show them we’re not going to stand by and just let anybody run over us.’ ”
Chapman had a big task this year. He lost 23 seniors from a team that, while widely tabbed as one of the best in the state, couldn’t break through to the regional tournament.
With just two seniors starting and just six on the entire roster this season, Chapman steered the young Trojans into the regional semifinals only to lose to state-bound Friendswood.
Even with all the recent success, it was still just a step away from the furthest the Trojans had ever been in the playoffs.
After losing that much talent, University came together at the right time and silenced the detractors that popped up at seemingly every corner.
Despite a 4-1 setback to Midway early in the year, University stormed through district with a 9-1 record to win its league for the third straight year. From there, the Trojans overcame a propensity to fall behind early and won four playoff games en route to a regional semifinal exit.
Chapman, who also coaches the University girls’ team, credits assistants Cain Quiroz and Ricky Perez for helping him navigate the tricky waters of managing two playoff teams.
The fact that he was able to juggle a pair of district champions and bring together a youthful boys’ team is a tribute to yet another successful year at University.
“They wanted to prove that even though we were young and inexperienced that they could come back and go further than last year’s team did with all that talent,” Chapman said. “They really put their minds to it and really did well.”
Coach of the Year:
Jason Diaz Waco High
By thumbing through the Super Centex archives, it’s easy to see Jason Diaz’s connection to the upper echelons of Central Texas soccer royalty.
The game is in his bloodlines. His brother, Ben, is not only the football kicker that helped Waco High beat Midway in 2011, but he’s also the older brother that paved the way for Jason to make his mark on the soccer team as just a freshman this year.
Not that Jason didn’t earn his spot.
“I had to work hard like everybody else,” Diaz said. “I had to fight for my spot like everybody else did.”
Diaz made a quick impression on Waco High coach Kris Kahler and earned his first start in the Lions’ preseason scrimmage against Belton.
Kahler was quickly rewarded for his confidence in the youngster. Diaz produced both in midfield and at forward for the Lions, who came within a breath of nipping University for the district title.
Diaz scored 18 goals and added 12 assists, providing versatility and slotting in as needed despite being just a freshman.
And even though he encountered some good-humored ribbing as one of the newest members of varsity — and as a younger brother of one of the Lions’ most productive players — it was a natural fit for Diaz.
“It was great,” Diaz said. “It was amazing, the feeling. Just playing with all the seniors we had and all the juniors. We had a great team.”
|D||Jose Jaimes||Sr||Waco High|
|GK||Blake Crum||Jr||China Spring|
Player of the Year: Leo Peralta, Midway
Newcomer of the Year: Jason Diaz, Waco High
Coach of the Year: Mike Chapman, University
Cameron Cooper, Adrian Hernandez and Carlo Mosnia, Belton; Philip Gai, Daven Pruitt and James Temple, China Spring; Ruben Flores, Connally; Sebastian Corrales, Aaron Fuster and Franco Vega, Gatesville; Gerron Dewberry and Ryan Wendl, Midway; Carlos Carrizales, Chris Gayton and Francisco Ponce, University; Ben Diaz, Waco High
Was a bulldozer up top for goal-happy Trojans, scoring 29 goals and taking district offensive MVP.
Unstoppable forward put in area-best 37 goals and was at his best in the postseason for 27-win Midway.
Latest in line of Belton attack hammers, putting in 21 goals, 15 assists, district MVP season.
Alvarez was unnaturally predisposed to offense in the middle of the park with 18 goals, nine assists.
Silky smooth midfielder with a rolodex of skill moves had 30 goals and took home district MVP honors.
Made impact in first year as a key varsity cog with 25 goals from the middle; scored three playoff goals.
Despite loss of 23 seniors, guided the youthful Trojans to the regional semifinals and 24-win season.
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