Even after a two-year span with jaw-dropping statistics, Ernesto Hernandez still has his sights set on loftier goals.
For most high soccer players, the end of their high school career means an end to competitive soccer as well. But after scoring 75 goals and 29 assists for Gatesville over the past two seasons, Hernandez plans to make a living playing the game he’s been known to dominate.
In a little under two weeks, he’ll head up to Dallas for a tryout with a chance of getting on board with a professional team. It’s the first step in his dream of playing pro soccer as the highest level, whether it’s in the MLS or in his native Mexico.
“There are maybe 20 different coaches come and see how you play,” Hernandez said. “If they like how you play, they’ll take you to their league.”
If the past two years are any indicator, who’s to say he can’t succeed?
It was a lot to ask the Hornets’ star forward to improve on his junior campaign, when he scored 36 goals with 18 assists and earned his first Super Centex Player of the Year honor. But somehow he did, burying his shots 39 more times as a senior.
No Central Texas player scored more than Hernandez did this season. For his efforts, he’s the Super Centex Player of the Year for a second consecutive season. He’s the fourth player in Super Centex history to win it twice.
“My high school career was pretty awesome, because you learn a lot from other people that know a lot about soccer,” Hernandez said. “These four years have been really special for me because for me, I had the best coach, which was very special for me. He taught me a lot of things that are going to help me a lot in the future.”
Where Hernandez succeeded, so did Gatesville. The Hornets secured the District 17-4A title and qualified for the playoffs for the fourth straight year. They’ve won 35 games over the past two years, including a run to the Class 4A regional quarterfinal in 2015.
All in all, Hernandez spent the entirety of his high school career enjoying success. He spent all four years on the varsity squad and even earned a Super Centex honorable mention in 2013.
“It was hard, because there were better players back then,” Hernandez said. “We have a lot of competition, but I learned from those people.”
Just like in 2015, Hernandez didn’t let his opponents relax when the ball was at midfield. He made a knack for his David Beckham-esque long-distance goals, developing an ability to hit a bullseye in the back at the net from far beyond the box.
During Gatesville’s playoff run in 2015, Hernandez fired a shot from the 35-yard line that somehow found its way to the net. He could only watch as it sailed past the line for a Hornets goal, bewildered that his long-range attempt actually worked.
“It was pretty awesome,” Hernandez said.
In an era of soccer when young players seem to resonate with one of the game’s two biggest stars or the other – Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo – Hernandez draws elements from both professional’s styles of play to mold his own.
He draws his long-range marksmanship from Ronaldo, who is known for his adept shot-bending on penalty kicks and set pieces. But his quickness and tactfulness with ball near his feet mirrors Messi’s style on the attack.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with sharing play styles with both of arguably the world’s two best players.
“My best thing is shooting from long distance and trying to do wall passes with my partners,” Hernandez said. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I think what I have the most is speed. I’m very fast and I know how to put it on the net.”
Hernandez isn’t being picky with his future in soccer. The world’s most popular sport is growing in the United States, opening up more opportunities for him to remain stateside and begin his climb to the MLS level.
But it doesn’t have to the U.S. It doesn’t have to Mexico, either. Or Europe. Or South America.
It just has to be soccer, and Hernandez will be happy.
“Now, here in the U.S., soccer is getting very popular,” he said. “It would be pretty awesome to back over there because it was where I was born, but my dream is to just play soccer anywhere.”
Coach of the Year: Braden Wersonske, Vanguard
With one penalty kick showdown, Vanguard made history.
The Vikings needed a victory over Temple Holy Trinity to secure their first-ever TAPPS playoff appearance in the program’s seven-year existence.
No problem. Braden Wersonske had coached up his team for his kind of moment, and they delivered. They buried four straight penalty kicks to prevail, 2-1, over the Celtics and clinch their district’s final playoff spot in historic fashion.
“We didn’t need our fifth kicker, and our goalie made some great guesses and ended up making a stop, and put the pressure on them early,” Wersonske said. “And of course, that led to them maybe shooting some of them a little bit wide, and even helped give us more confidence.
“That was a huge win for us and a huge win for our program.”
The victory came in what was essentially a playoff game itself, as the winner of the two teams would qualify for the playoffs with the victory. Both teams were on the upswing, having struggled in district play in previous seasons.
Vanguard proved to have made the most progress in its second year under Wersonske.
“We knew that we were a better team, so there was no risk for us,” Wersonske said. “We just had to go out and play our game. We got one quick goal, and unfortunately we just couldn’t get another one to go in until the end. We had some close calls in overtime. When it came down to the penalty kicks, I think that’s when we really showed how confident we are as a team.”
Vanguard finished the 2016 season with a 6-4 mark in district play, which was good enough to secure the third and final playoff spot out of Division III District 3.
It’s not an easy district to win, with two-time state runner-up Austin Hill Country Christian and Bryan Brazos Christian typically dominating the top two playoff spots.
But Wersonske expects the Vikings to get even better in the coming years, with seven starters returning to the lineup next season.
“As a small school, you can do a whole lot with an athletic kid,” Wersonske said. “He may not have the soccer knowledge, but can grow quickly. This year, we’ve pulled a couple of athletes in, and then next year we’re going to have more athletes come in and play. So that’s just going to grow who we are.”
Newcomer of the Year: Antonio Ledesma, University
Antonio Ledesma was blindsided when University’s 2016 roster was unveiled for the first time.
“I thought I was going to make JV,” Ledesma said. “So it did surprise me when I had my ID number on the paper.”
Just like that, the freshman was playing at the highest level of Texas high school soccer. Not only that, but he had a starting spot with his name on it among the Trojans’ back line.
Rather than struggle against his competition of predominantly older, more experienced player, Ledesma shined as a newcomer to the University lineup, scoring four goals with six assists while helping the Trojans’ defense post 10 shutouts during the 2016 season.
He was named District 17-5A’s Newcomer of the Year, confirming the suspicions of University head coach Mike Chapman that the young player he first witnessed as a middle-schooler was indeed varsity-caliber talent from Day 1 of high school.
“Over the past 20-something years that I’ve been at University, we haven’t started too many freshmen,” Chapman said. “We knew that we had something special in Antonio when he was in eighth grade. We were penciling him in then. We knew that he could start and do the job as a freshman. He’s worked hard and earned it, and he’s done every bit of what we expected from him.”
Although he played defense for the bulk of his freshman season, Ledesma capitalized on his scoring opportunities by moving up from the back line and occasionally playing a midfield role.
In University’s district opener against Elgin, he scored a game-winning goal off a feed from Super Centex selection Humberto Cruz.
I moved up and Humberto passed me the ball on the 38-yard line,” Ledesma said. “There was a defender coming towards me, so I shook him and then I just shot it. The wind was going towards us, and I just shot it and made a goal.”
Ledesma looks to be the leader of a youth movement at University, with a large and talented group currently coming up through the program as freshmen and eighth-graders.
So talented, Chapman foresees another state championship in the near future. The Trojans won the Class 4A in 2013, going undefeated on the season.
“With the freshman group we have this year with Antonio and the eighth-graders we’ve got coming up that are so good, Antonio is going to be special,” Chapman said. “He’s going to be a part of another state championship team before he graduates.”
It may not be long before Ledesma is wearing the captain’s sleeve of that group. He’ll embrace the role when it comes.
“It’s going to be hard, but I’m going to have my coaches with me to help me and help the players that are coming,” he said.
2016 SUPER CENTEX BOYS SOCCER TEAM
|Player of the year: Ernesto Hernandez, F, Gatesville|
|Newcomer of the year: Antonio Ledesma, D/MF, University|
|Coach of the year: Braden Wesonske, Vanguard|
|F||George Gutierrez||Sr||China Spring|
|MF||Jorge Cerrillo||Sr||Waco High|
|D||Alexis Arranaga||Sr||Waco High|
|Honorable mention: Roberto Barrios, Belton; Kameron Coe, Javier Sauceda and Dustin White, China Spring; Michael Ramos, Midway; Vicente Elloque and Diego Rodriguez, Reicher; Jose Garcia, Temple; Evan Mastin, Vanguard; Enrique Dominguez and Pablo Negrete, Waco High|
Central Texas-best 39 goals, 11 assists; 2015 Player of the Year
F, China Spring
Tallied 18 goals and 10 assists for Class 4A playoff team
12 goals, 9 assists; District 17-5A offensive MVP
As a striker, scored 16 goals during district schedule
20 goals, 15 assists; “heart and soul” of the team
10 goals, 12 assists despite missing games to injury
MF, Waco High
18 goals, 8 assists; District 17-5A MVP recipient
16 goals, 11 assists; district midfielder MVP
4 goals, 7 assists; district 12-6A defensive MVP
D, Waco High
8 goals, 6 assists; led team’s 9 district shutouts
First-year varsity player gave up only 1 goal in playoffs
4 goals, 6 assists; top newcomer helped defense to 10 shutouts
Vikings made first-ever trip to TAPPS playoffs