By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Hannah Diaz is just a sophomore, but she feels some responsibility in leading her Middletown girls soccer teammates.
“I’m the only one who plays club soccer,” said Diaz, who suits up for the SR United Shock when she isn’t playing for her school.
“I’ll teach them new moves and ways to defend. A lot of them could easily play club; they just don’t have the opportunity.”
If the Mustangs are going to learn from a fellow high schooler, they may as well learn from the best — and that’s Diaz, a 5-foot-5 dynamo of a midfielder who has quietly emerged as Lake County’s top player.
“I would say Hannah Diaz is the best player I’ve seen in nine years of coaching,” said St. Helena coach Marc Luelsdorf, whose team eliminated Middletown in the semifinals of the North Coast Section Division 3 playoffs. “I don’t remember another player like that. And she’s only going to get better. When she wants to, she does things on the field that no one else can do.”
Diaz does it all from her center-mid position. Most of the Mustangs’ plays run through her, and she led the team with 40 goals and 10 assists. When he needs a defensive stand, coach Lee Hoage will drop Diaz into the backfield.
“It’s the variety of skills she has,” Hoage said. “She’s gifted with the ball, whether it’s dribbling, acceleration, goal-scoring. She needs to put on some weight and get stronger, but she’s so fluid and graceful. And she has the touch to thread these passes — it’s so beautiful when she executes.”
Hoage sounds almost poetic when he starts to talk about Diaz. It isn’t hard to see why. Middletown finished 16-4 this year, and figures to be a small-school force for at least the next two years with Diaz in high gear.
It isn’t a complete shock that she’s in this position. Diaz has been playing soccer for about as long as she could toddle. Her mother remembers her at the age of 6 or 7, watching a video on footwork and dutifully practicing the moves. Hannah would stay in the family’s small front yard shooting into a makeshift goal until it was too dark to see.
Diaz’s older sister Natalie was a standout at Middletown before missing her senior season with a knee injury. Natalie now starts for Barry University in Florida. Hannah might be headed for even loftier accomplishments.
“I know it sounds extreme,” Hoage said, “but if she can continue to develop, she really could be one of those players who gets into the Olympics or something of that nature.”
2011 ALL-EMPIRE SMALL-SCHOOL GIRLS SOCCER
Player of the year: Hannah Diaz, Middletown, sophomore, MF
Samie Acevedo, Cloverdale, senior, D
Kate Bayes, Sonoma Academy, senior, F
Nadine Bradley, Clear Lake, senior, D
Shannon Carroll, St. Vincent de Paul, senior, MF
Holle Depina, St. Helena, senior, F
Rebecca Dodele, St. Vincent de Paul, sophomore, MF/F
Gabriella George, St. Vincent de Paul, senior, D
Mattie Kucer, Middletown, junior, D
Madison Stewart, Cloverdale, junior, MF
Savannah Stoughton, Sonoma Academy, freshman, F
Desi Traverso, St. Helena, senior, GK
Kylie Agapoff, Middletown, senior, MF
Briana Barragon, St. Helena, senior, D
Krista Carrillo, Calistoga, junior, F
Brittany Cash, Middletown, senior, F
Jessica Maynard, St. Vincent de Paul, senior, F
Tara McCulloch, Sonoma Academy, junior, D
Telia Paskaly, Clear Lake, senior, F
Angelica Sotelo, Roseland Prep, senior, MF
Lucy Trejo, Roseland Prep, junior, D
Kelly Wilkinson, Middletown, junior, MF
Julia Willmers, Sonoma Academy, sophomore, GK
Coach of the year: Paul Sweeney, St. Vincent de Paul