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Meet the new stars of Oregon high school boys soccer: 2023's breakthrough players

Which players around the state became stars this fall?

The Oregon high school boys soccer playoffs kick off this weekend, and as teams prepare for the stretch run, looking to advance to Hillsboro Stadium (6A, 5A) and Liberty High School (4A, 3A/2A/1A) for the state finals, we asked coaches to nominate someone as their breakthrough player this season. 

Earlier lists of top players:

Forwards | Midfielders | Defenders | Goalkeepers

F Matty Callison, Barlow, sophomore

Callison had 14 goals and eight assists, including a hat trick during a late-season victory over Clackamas (the school’s first win over the Cavaliers since they joined the Mt. Hood Conference in 2014) as the Bruins made a late push that fell just short of earning their first 6A state playoff berth since 2015.

D/M Jose Castro-Lopez, Junction City, freshman

Castro-Lopez seized a starting spot from Day 1 for the Tigers, switching between outside back and defensive midfielder while playing almost every minute this season and chipping in two assists. “He is an outstanding 1v1 defender and consistently connects balls won,” Junction City coach Beau Dussell said. “He also wins the majority of the aerial battles in his zone. He will be a key contributor to our program and has the potential to be a program-changing athlete.”

M/F Ian Catarina Cruz, Liberty, junior

Catarina Cruz’s breakthrough season coincided with enjoying better luck finding the back of the net for the Falcons. He recorded the program’s first hat trick in several years in a 4-0 win at Century, giving him eight goals and three assists through Oct. 10.

M Grit Charitram, Illinois Valley, senior

Charitram is the Cougars’ Swiss Army knife, capable not only of playing his primary position of central defensive midfielder but also at any spot on the back line or at right wing. “Grit has excellent pace, instincts and awareness,” Illinois Valley coach Augustus Ogu said. “He has taken a big step forward this season, and I look forward to his continued development.”

M/F Sage Daniells, Delphian, senior

Last season, Daniells was primarily a facilitator for the Dragons, feeding all-state strikers Muj Abulohoum (18 goals) and Memo Cervantes (10 goals) and finishing with eight assists. This year, Daniells has joined Cervantes as the team’s primary scoring threats with a team-high eight goals and three assists to help Delphian advance to the 3A/2A/1A state playoffs.

F Papa Diallo, Catlin Gabel, sophomore

Diallo shined on the JV team last season, then hit the weights in the offseason to prepare for the rigors of playing in one of the state’s most difficult leagues regardless of classification. He emerged as the Eagles’ top target player, scoring 10 goals with two assists, but “the stats don't really tell the story of what Papa has meant to the team,” said Catlin Gabel coach Peter Shulman. “His ability to hold off defenders and bring the midfield into the attack has been critical to our success. He defends well, finds runners, and is a threat in the air and on the floor.”

F Will Ficker, Westside Christian, senior

Ficker is better known on campus for his play on the basketball court, but he established himself as an all-state caliber striker this season with 12 goals (second on the team) and nine assists to help the Eagles win the 3A/2A/1A Special District 1 title. He also joined several teammates to form a clothing business, selling their wares downtown every weekend. “Will is a fierce athlete who welcomes any challenge you place in front of him,” Westside Christian coach Jason Housley said. “The amount of improvement I have seen in Will over the last few years is incredible, and I could not be prouder.”

F Anthony Flores, North Salem, senior

Before Flores turned out this year, the highest level of competition he’d played was Sunday men’s league as he worked construction with his father when not attending school. He quickly became indispensable in the Vikings' run to a 6A playoff berth, scoring 11 goals with two assists in their first 10 games, finding time to balance school, work and soccer. “He’s a lethal forward, playing on the wings or as our main striker,” North Salem coach Moises Mendoza Medina said. “His energy is unmatched.”

F Braxton Hamilton, South Umpqua, freshman

Hamilton missed one week midseason because of a hamstring injury, but otherwise, he was a rock up front for the Lancers with nine goals and six assists as they narrowly missed a 3A/2A/1A state playoff berth.

D Gavin Hartwig, Cleveland, senior

Hartwig was a winger on the Warriors’ JV team last year but moved to outside back this season, “and he came in this year on fire,” said Cleveland coach Nick Yoder. He started every game until injuring an arm in early October, but he had a goal and several assists while helping them allow 10 goals in their first 12 games. “He’s played incredibly,” Yoder said. “He works incredibly hard running up and down the sidelines.”

M Fernando Joachin, Stayton, junior

Eagles coach Chris Shields credited Joachin, who is in his second season on the varsity squad, with changing their season after he moved from defender to a central defensive midfielder following a 1-1 tie with North Marion in late September. They went 7-0-1 the rest of the way, with Joachin chipping in two assists, to help them win the Oregon West Conference title.

F James Lenninger, Coquille, junior

The Red Devils missed the playoffs, but Lenninger stepped in this season and had a hand in half of their goals, scoring 17 and assisting on four.

F/M Alex Lopez, Creswell, senior

Lopez didn’t crack the varsity squad until this season, but after dropping 30 pounds in the offseason, he’s turned into “a rock-solid forward for us,” according to Bulldogs coach Brandi Wittenborn, with his 11 goals (including two hat tricks) and four assists behind only team leader Brady Pratt, a sophomore with 14 goals and 16 assists. “I think like most kids, Alex struggled through the COVID years,” Wittenborn said. “He comes from very humble beginnings and up to this point wasn’t sure if he could play competitive soccer. He is an extremely hard worker who never complains.”

F Yurem Martinez, Thurston, sophomore

Martinez has proven himself to be a clutch player for the Colts, scoring the game-winner in their season opener against Cottage Grove and notching two goals against Newberg to earn them a draw. He had six goals through Oct. 10, helping Thurston stay in the hunt for their first league title since 2007. “He is a threat every time the ball is at his feet,” Thurston coach Jake Bonnett said.

M/F Jayson Minsker, Corbett, junior

The Cardinals play in one of the state’s toughest leagues, but Minsker nevertheless made a name for himself among the league’s top players, scoring nine goals (including a hat trick). “Jayson is simply the most refined, technically skilled and most gifted striker and player I have ever coached,” Corbett coach Brian Paul said. “I have never coached a player with more drive, instinct and natural talent, and he carries it with humility and a maturity that is uncommon for his age.”

F Jose Mondesi-Munoz, St. Mary’s (Medford), sophomore

Mondesi-Munoz was the only freshman to make the all-district first team last fall, and he has made bigger strides this season in teaming with seniors Christopher Kranenburg and Leo Cronk for a combined 50 goals and 20 assists for the 3A/2A/1A Special District 5 champions. “With balance and poise beyond his years, he teleports the ball from anywhere to anywhere, breaking laws of soccer physics” said Crusaders assistant coach Andy Kranenburg.

M Eldon Nichols, La Salle Prep, senior

Nichols and his identical twin, Breslin, are virtually inseparable on and off the pitch, with Eldon notching five goals and 10 assists as a central midfielder and Breslin chipping in four goals and eight assists. They also formed a doubles team that reached the 5A state tennis quarterfinals last spring, but this year is the first they’ve played together on the varsity soccer team. “Their chemistry and combination play are formidable,” La Salle Prep coach Monty Hawkins said. “Not only can they find other teammates with their passing and vision, but when they work together in attack, they know exactly where the other wants the ball.”

M Sebaztian Nuñez Herrera, Central, senior

Nuñez Herrera missed most of last season because of tendinitis in a knee, but he returned this year to become a key contributor in the central midfield, starting every game and rarely leaving the pitch. The highlight of his season was a hat trick in a nonleague home win against Benson, and he had five goals and three assists as the Panthers were in prime position to make the 5A playoffs before a late swoon. “He is a workhorse for us in the midfield,” Central coach Jose Becerra said. “He is always trying to recover the ball for us or pushing up to help the attack.”

D Jack Reding, Jesuit, senior

Reding moved to the starting back line three games into the season and has helped the Crusaders secure another Metro League title as they prepare to defend their 6A state championship. “He earned a starting spot, and we have not been able to take him off the field since,” Jesuit coach Geoff Skipper said. “His ability to go forward has changed the dynamic of our team.”

F Coen Schneiter, Central Linn, junior

Schneiter transitioned from the back line to striker this year, scoring 22 goals (including five hat tricks and two braces) with two assists in his first 11 games to help the Cobras qualify for the 3A/2A/1A Special District 3 playoffs.

D Jacob Smith, Roseburg, senior

Smith is a converted center back (he originally was a forward who played on the wing and centrally) whom Roseburg coach Ronald Bustamente credited with keeping the team organized along the back line. “Jacob overcame multiple injuries last season to return to us in full health,” Bustamante said.

M Kevin Sorcia Santamaria, Westview, junior

Graduation hit last year’s 6A finalists hard, but Sorcia Santamaria moved to the starting lineup as a central attacking midfielder and helped soften the blow as the Wildcats earned a return trip to the state playoffs. “Kevin has showcased remarkable progress and become an indispensable asset,” Westview coach Jon Fresh said.

D KC Soto, Woodburn, senior

Soto traveled to Spain in August to play in a tournament and returned to the Bulldogs a changed player after getting a taste of what it is like to play soccer overseas. The center back became one of the team’s captains, taking command of the back line for the top-ranked team in 5A entering the state playoffs. “KC is a very composed and skilled player,” Woodburn coach Leroy Sanchez said.

D Hank Stringer, Ashland, senior

Stringer starts at center back for a defense that leads the Midwestern League (1.27 goals allowed per game) while chipping in two goals and an assist, with the Grizzlies just two wins from winning the league title.

F Eric Valadez, Lost River, senior

Valadez stepped into a leadership role this season after the Raiders graduated 10 seniors, improving from six goals a year ago to 20 this season from his left wing position. “This year, he has a better understanding of his position and the game, and that has led to more scoring opportunities,” Lost River coach Rafael Hernandez said. “His intensity helps balance our senior group and helps our underclassmen see what it takes to be successful.”

F Raf Westlund, Lincoln, senior

Westlund returned after spending his junior year abroad in San Sebastián, Spain, and he has teamed with first-year varsity player Cameron Esmond to form a dynamic forward duo for the PIL champion Cardinals. Westlund, a University of Chicago commit, had six goals and five assists through Oct. 10. “His ability in a 1v1 is so dynamic, creating a great balance between goals and assists,” Lincoln coach Brandon McNeil said. 

Earlier lists of top players:

Forwards | Midfielders | Defenders | Goalkeepers