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Offensive Player of the Year

Julianna Millin, McAllen High

McAllen High’s Julianna Millin poses on Saturday, June 24, 2022, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

This season, everyone knew who the Bulldogs’ Julianna Millin was.

Knowing her was one thing. Stopping her was on a whole different level.

There was no sophomore slump for the scoring machine as she led the Valley’s offensive juggernaut with 42 goals and 16assists and has been named The Monitor’s All-Area Girls Soccer Offensive Player of the Year.

Those numbers not only accumulated during a season in which she often played one half as McHi jumped out to huge leads in many matches (plus missed two games), but they also came during a season in which defenses were more physical trying to lessen her threat. In response, she more than doubled her assists from her freshman year.

“I think we expected I would be man-marked a little bit more than last year, because they were expecting me more and knew my midfielders were going to get me the ball,” Millin said. “It was a matter of trying to find my role on the team and adjust to the different adversity that I was going to face this year.”

She adjusted well and once again shined under the biggest spotlights, whether against a district/city rival or in the post season. In the playoffs, the sophomore sensation scored six goals and added five assists. She assisted on two game-winning goalsduring that span and played part in all three goals against Corpus Christi Veterans. It seemed the bigger the match, the greater her performance.

“It wasn’t just me, but a matter of my teammates being in the game. When you have four or five other girls who can score as proficiently as I can, it’s hard to mark everybody,” Millin said. “When you have to worry about Gabby (Gonzalez) or Milan (Diaz),then you’re not as aware of me in the background.”

Newcomer of the Year

Kennedy Kaiser, McAllen Memorial

McAllen Memorial’s Kennedy Kaiser Thursday, June 29, 2023 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

One could forgive Kennedy Kaiser if she didn’t live up to the hype that began two or more years before she even stepped onto the McAllen Memorial campus.

However, she lived up to and surpassed it. Kaiser has been named The Monitor’s All-Area Girls Soccer Newcomer of the Year.

To add to those growing expectations, the freshman phenom missed a good portion of the season, playing in just 13 of 18district games and missing the preseason. When she finally played, the impact was felt immediately

“Going into the year not playing was tough. I always had the vision of myself being my best self and healthy but it was totally different,” Kaiser said. But it helped me as a player to have a different perspective and made me a lot tougher and more appreciative of the opportunities I’ve been given.”

Kaiser scored 30 goals in 13 district games and had 13 assists. She scored five more goals and added an assist in the playoffs.

“There was definitely pressure to perform,” said Kaiser, the daughter of Memorial head coach Matthew Kaiser. “I was feeling it going into my eighth grade summer. I was a little worried where I would fit in. Getting injured actually took some of the pressure off me a little bit and helped me get more mentally ready for the challenge.”

Her “scorpion kick” goal during the season was something that legends and legendary careers are made from. A pass came in behind Kaiser, she leaned forward and lifted her leg high behind her, like a scorpion tail, and hit the ball square, knocking it pasta stunned keeper and sending Memorial teammates and fans into a frenzy.

“I didn’t really mean to do it on purpose, it was just instinct,” Kaiser said. “I was trying everything I could do to get it. It was quite the moment. I was like ‘did that just go in?’ It was the perfect time and place.”

Utility Player of the Year

Savannah Ruiz, McAllen High

McAllen High’s Savannah Ruiz Wednesday, June 28, 2023 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

Savannah Ruiz brought more than elite soccer skills to the field for the Bulldogs. She carried an unmatched and innate awareness; a unique ability to see not just what was going on within her vision, but also things there were no ways she could see.

“I don’t know where that came from, but I’d be dribbling and hear my teammates going,” Ruiz said. “I’d get a sense of where they are going to end up and where to put the ball and trust my instincts.”

For her performance in helping the Bulldogs reach the Class 5A regional championship, Ruiz is The Monitor’s All-Area Girls Soccer Utility Player of the Year.

The rising senior was tasked to be the quarterback of a traditionally high-powered offense, and she performed exquisitely with24 goals and a team-leading and school-record 32 assists. More importantly, she was the cog that switched gears from defense to offense in a flash.

“Before the season I put in a lot of hours training and talking with coaches, and how they wanted me to be a key piece and be prepared to be a leader along with the captains,” Ruiz said. “I was excited but nervous.”

With goal scorers aplenty, Ruiz found defenses that were not sure who to cover in the new formations the Bulldogs inserted and she took advantage of it, pushing the ball deep into opposing territory looking for a goal either from her or a teammate.

“It was confusing at first, a lot of times nobody would come to me. I wanted to be more confident on the ball and not afraid to make passes that might go wrong,” Ruiz said. “Bringing the ball up, I needed to get the ball to a forward, who were all heavily marked. I would get someone to come to me, and if they wouldn’t I would go myself.”

Defensive Player of the Year

Sofia Davila, McAllen Memorial

McAllen Memorial’s Sofia Davila Thursday, June 29, 2023 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

For four years, Sofia Davila played the same position for McAllen Memorial, roaming the defensive side of the field, prowling for intruders.

But she didn’t think this season would start off the way it did.

“It was a really rocky preseason, we didn’t have the best games or performances,” Davila said. “It took a lot of work to get where we were mentally and physically to get the team together.”

The end result showed that massive improvement as Memorial captured a 20-5-1 record, finished second in a ready-for-battle District 31-5A and advanced to the UIL Class 5A Sweet 16. Along the way, that defense gave up the fewest goals in district 13in 18 games and marked off nine shutouts.

Davila’s stick-like-glue defense was a huge part of the Mustangs success, and she has been named The Monitor’s All-Area Girls Soccer Defensive Player of the Year.

“I felt like our first preseason game was a struggle and we lost really bad,” the senior said. “I felt like we could never lose like that again. It was a moment of reality, and I had to step up and become a better defender and not hit a low point like that again.”

Davila is an avid student of the YouTube video, “The Art of Defending.” It’s something she watches prior to every match as she prepares both mentally and physically for the challenges of a grueling district schedule, and more.

“Some of the girls in our district are really athletic, fast and feet taller and stronger than me, so I needed to be prepared for the season. I hit the weights and I’ll talk to myself and say, ‘I’m strong. I’m fast. I’m smart. I keep it positive to help ensure that I play the best game I can play.”

Goalkeeper of the Year

Karen Oviedo, McAllen Memorial

McAllen Memorial’s Karen Oviedo Thursday, June 29, 2023 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

Karen Oviedo was born to be a goalkeeper.

The McAllen Memorial stats from the past season confirm that. The Mustangs compiled a 20-5-1 record with 13 shutouts. They allowed just 0.72 goals against during the 18-game district season and 1.03 goals per game for the entire season through playoffs.

Oviedo, a 5-foot-11 rising senior who rose to so many situations, is The Monitor’s All-Area Girls Soccer Goalkeeper of the Year.

Oviedo began playing soccer when she was 5 and said she was always the tallest girl in her school, making her an obvious choice for keeper.

“My dad helped me train. He helped build confidence in me since I was a little girl,” Oviedo said. “I love being a goalkeeper. It’s rewarding after every game.”

In a district like 31-5A, goalkeepers have plenty of opportunities to earn their keep. Teams such as McAllen High and Edinburg Vela shoot and often score at will.

Confidence stands next to talent and skill when it comes to goalkeeping. One needs to have a short-term memory. Oviedo said that it helped to have Sofia Davila roaming around on defense.

“She’s the best defender I’ve ever played with,” Oviedo said. “I’m not going to lie she did most of the work. But look for if she’s busy and we will communicate a lot.”

Oviedo is also aggressive. She’s not going to let anyone come running up to her without a battle.

“I think I’m tough and when I’m playing in a game, I’m so into it,” Oviedo said. “I build a wall around me, this tough character when someone is coming at me, I’ll run up at them maybe kick them or get near their face screaming. It builds my confidence and I feel pretty powerful.

“My teammates on the sidelines say they can always hear me and I sound scary.”

Sub-5A Player of the Year

Jayline Garcia, Hidalgo

Hidalgo’s Jayline Garcia Wednesday, June 28, 2023 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

As a sophomore, Hidalgo’s Jayline Garcia would get a ball and rocket toward the opponent’s goal, firing a shot whenever she got the slightest opening and from about anywhere on the field.

Her approach led the Pirates to a district title, and she led the Valley in overall scoring.

This year, as a junior, the offensive stalwart who was unshakably dependent, was faster, stronger and smarter.

She led the Valley in scoring again, with 61 goals, and is The Monitor’s All-Area Girls Soccer Sub-5A Player of the Year.

“This year was so much better,” said Garcia, who led the Pirates to the third round of the playoffs before falling to Alice. Garcia scored all three goals in that game for the Pirates. “Next year we want to progress more and get to at least that third round again. For me, I just want to do what I’ve always done.”

What she’s always done is score in a flurry of ways. Garcia tied Hidalgo’s program record as a sophomore with 43 goals and obliterated it this year as the Pirates won their seventh straight district title.

“I progressed with my shooting. I remember I would just shoot to shoot, but now I’m more accurate and more efficient,” she said. “I got way stronger and my shots were a lot stronger, and I feel I was faster. But, before, I would run everywhere, but this year I learned how to use it and I knew where my teammates were and when to run.”

Hidalgo loses a large number of players heading into next year, but Garcia is pretty confident that the team can continue being successful as she does what she’s always done and score.

“We look good in summer league, and we’re looking good for next year,” she said.

Coach of the Year

Patrick Arney, McAllen High

McAllen High’s Pat Arney Wednesday, June 28, 2023 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

While the McHi girls soccer team won its eighth straight district title and once again went farther than any other Valley team in the playoffs, not everything was the same.

“We radically changed our formation from what we did the last year,” head coach Patrick Arney said. “We threw in a lot of stuff the girls weren’t sure of at the beginning.”

By the end, however, the Bulldogs had won 21 straight matches and ended the season with a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to powerhouse Smithson Valley in the regional final.

Their performance surpassed expectations, and Arney is The Monitor’s All-Area Girls Soccer Coach of the Year.

“We lost six quality players from the year before who does that?” Arney said. “They believed in the process and what we were doing, the parents created a great culture and the coaches (Juan Lopez and Michael Smith) helped run a great program.”

The Bulldogs finished the season 23-2-2, their only other loss coming to city rival McAllen Rowe during the district opener.

“That loss really didn’t affect us,” Arney said. “We dominated the stats. (Rowe) had two goals and only three shots. It was just one of those things. It was a growing experience here’s what we did wrong, now let’s grow from that.

That was their last loss until the Elite Eight. McHi scored 133 goals and allowed just 20 for the season.

“With the ability and talent the girls had, I wouldn’t be a good coach if I didn’t look at different things,” Arney said. “We wanted the girls to be able to move, to look at all the options.

“Sometimes we took a little more time to see what’s going on, being methodical. But they ran a lot on emotion and they were very smart. Their soccer intelligence is way up there, and they could explain why we were doing the things we were. That’s special.”