CUMBERLAND — No one scored more goals than Northern’s Elijah Lais.
Perhaps no one prevented more goals than Mountain Ridge’s Jared Lopez.
Both are seniors and three-year starters who led their teams to championship seasons. And both are the first players from their respective schools to be voted boys soccer Player of the Year, as together they share this year’s Edward C. “Ebbie” Finzel Award.
The players of the year and All-Area team were selected through a vote of area head coaches.
The numbers don’t lie. Elijah Lais was the area’s most prolific scorer, leading all players in goals scored, assists, points and scoring average.
The center of attention of opposing defenses after being offensive player of the year with 18 goals and 17 assists as a junior, Lais topped both marks this year with 23 goals and 18 assists. His 64 points in 17 games gave him an area’s best 3.76 scoring average, more than a point better than anyone else.
In his three-year career as a starter at midfield and striker, Lais totaled 43 goals and 38 assists.
“Elijah has great touch and plays the ball exceptionally well with both feet,’’ said Northern coach Lynn Lais. “He is an excellent one-touch passer, has a very accurate shot, serves the ball with great accuracy, and has an uncanny ability to distribute the ball. He also positions himself well off the ball.”
The ability to accurately pass and distribute the ball is easily evident by the 38 assists, with 35 coming the last two seasons. Lais is the only player with double-figure totals in goals and assists the last two seasons.
“Elijah’s assist numbers are indicative of his style of play. He is very much a team player,’’ his coach said. “Though he has the ability to create on his own, he looks to pass first and move to space rather than try to do it all.
“He will be a difficult player for us to replace and maintain our system of play.”
Northern had three of the area’s top four scorers in Lais, Zack Lipscomb and Daniel Warnick. The big three combined for 58 goals and 36 assists.
Scoring was only one part of the all-around game of Lais, who led the Huskies to a school record 15 wins, a 15-2 record, a spot in the region championship game, and a share of the area championship.
He took all of the team’s set pieces the last two years, and his accurate kicks, decision making and passing led to many scoring opportunities for teammates.
As co-captain, Lais led by example in games and practices. His three years as a starter were the most successful in school history, as the Huskies went 37-9-1 overall, and 21-4-1 in league play.
Lais was also first-team All-Appalachian Mountain Athletic League. He was second in the conference in scoring with 9 goals, 7 assists and a 3.57 average in seven games.
Lopez was a three-year starter and a tri-captain on the first team at Mountain Ridge, which he led to the Appalachian Mountain Athletic Conference championship as well as a share of the area championship.
As a stopper on defense, Lopez was the key to the Miners’ defense, which allowed only 16 goals in 14 games, including just two in the seven conference games.
“Jared was very difficult to beat. He challenged the opponent’s offense every team it entered his area,’’ said Mountain Ridge coach Tim Nightengale.
Lopez led a Mountain Ridge defense that posted six shutouts and allowed one goal or less in 11 games, including 10 of the first 11 of the season.
“Jared was selected captain because of his leadership, hard work and commitment to the soccer program,” Nightengale said. “He worked hard in practice and showed leadership on and off the field.”
While Lopez was defensive-minded, he was far more than just a defensive player.
He took all of the Miners’ direct and indirect kicks, and in the 15-game season had three goals and four assists for 10 points. Those are solid offensive numbers for a stopper, especially on a team that boasted balanced scoring. He ranked among the top 30 scorers in the area.
“On free kicks Jared placed the ball perfectly for scoring opportunities for us,’’ said Nightengale. “He’s had a great high school career, has been a pleasure to coach and has been one of the top defenders in our area the past two seasons. His knowledge and skill would certainly allow him to play at the next level.”
Lopez has also played club soccer with West Virginia United and the Frostburg Flames.
During the three years as a varsity starter, his teams went 37-10-1, played in two region championship games, won three league titles and three area titles.
Lopez was also first-team All-AMAC. The Miners outscored their opponents 34-2 in winning the conference crown in its inaugural season.
Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sports writer. Contact Mike Mathews at email@example.com.
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