All-Empire Small School Girls Soccer: Diaz keeps getting better

Photo by CONNER JAY / The Press Democrat Middletown junior Hannah Diaz

Photo by CONNER JAY / The Press Democrat
Middletown junior Hannah Diaz

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Middletown soccer coach Lee Hoage was curious to see how Hannah Diaz would respond when the Press Democrat named her its Small School Player of the Year in 2011-12. Diaz was just a sophomore at the time, and Hoage wasn’t sure what effect such an award would have on his star forward.

Would her ego inflate? Would she be a little harder to coach? Hoage shouldn’t have worried.

“Getting it as a sophomore was big for her, but she kept it in stride,” Hoage said. “For her, these are stepping stones to her goal of playing at the highest level possible. She took that huge label and all that recognition and became even more of leader this season.”

It may come as no surprise that Diaz is our Small School Player of the Year once again.

She scored 43 goals for Middletown this season and had more than 20 assists. And as Hoage suggested, Diaz took her already substantial leadership skills and bumped them up a notch, helping the Mustangs to a 21-0-1 record and a North Coast Section Division 3 championship.

It was Diaz who led the team activities between double-day practices, keeping teammates loose and bringing freshmen into the circle. And it was Diaz who introduced techniques she had picked up with her club team, SR United Shock, everything from cone drills and formation strategies to quadriceps and calf workouts.

“The girls loved that,” Hoage said. “She does it without being too pushy. Even training before a playoff game, we did bleacher runs in the seating behind the stadium, and she led them in that.”

On the field, Diaz is a dynamo. Few players in the NCL I could keep up with her, mentally or physically.

“In my mind, her speed and quickness are at the highest level,” Hoage said. “She has the feet, the hustle, the leadership, the spirit. She knows the game and understands it. … Her reaction, her vision — I really see her in the Olympic pool team and the national team for this region.

She’s played a lot of different positions. That’s another gift — her read of the ball, her timing.”

Diaz’s value was never more apparent than in the NCS title game against Sonoma Academy. Before the contest, she calmed down her coach by telling Hoage, “We got this.” The teams were in a scoreless death grip with about 20 minutes to play, however, until Diaz broke through with the goal that won the game. To be fair, it was Middletown’s defensive effort that made the goal hold up — but guess who was largely responsible for that defense?

“At the end of that game, they were putting pressure on our keeper, and I told her play back of Maria (Castaldo), like a second sweeper,” Hoage said. “She had to make a couple of incredible saves. I remember one move, it was one on one, and she just got there to put her foot on it. … I looked over at her mother each time, like, ‘I’m glad she’s back there.’”

The championship fulfilled Diaz’s top goal of 2012.

“It was unreal,” she said. “I think the best moment was seeing our goalkeeper’s face, because she had made so many amazing stops. It was her first year ever in goal, and she’d never been on a team like this.”

In typical Hannah Diaz fashion, her greatest triumph brought the memory of a teammate’s joy.

Diaz is being courted by colleges like St. Mary’s, but has other matters to attend to for now. She just wrapped up a nine-day soccer experience in Costa Rica with the Region IV team of the Olympic Development Program, followed immediately by a three-day tournament in Dallas with the Shock. And of course she has another year remaining at Middletown.

That one will present a new challenge. Hoage has announced he is stepping down after leading the Mustangs to the D3 title. Fortunately, he leaves the program in the capable hands, and even better feet, of Hannah Diaz.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.

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