He’s just as much a playmaker as he is a scoring machine. And that is why Alexander Ponce can officially call himself “The Man” from now on.
The senior midfielder/striker from Hood River Valley was named the Class 4A State Player of the Year on Tuesday, becoming the first HRV soccer player in history to achieve such an honor.
Ponce was also named to The Oregonian’s all-state first team by a panel of high-school coaches after he guided the Eagles to their first-ever state semifinal appearance in 2003.
“I prided myself with playmaking just as much as scoring this year, and I think the voters probably noticed that,” said Ponce, who scored 22 goals, including four in the playoffs. “It’s great to score goals to help the team. But if I can set somebody up, that’s just as sweet.”
The four-year varsity standout has had a long climb toward the top, and it wasn’t until this season that he realized how much of an impact he could have on his teammates.
During his previous three years on varsity, he was always the “younger brother” to guys like Matt Dallman, Jordan Thompson and real-life brother, Dereck. Ponce’s soft-spoken nature didn’t always allow him to step to the forefront, so he just tried to blend in.
“I would usually stand back and let those guys figure things out,” he said. “Even though I had been playing with them for so long, I still felt like it was their team.”
Ponce may have had more of a chance to break through as a junior, but two separate injuries to his foot and knee slowed him to the point of inactivity for the first time in his life.
However, 2003 brought with it a whole new level of responsibility as Ponce was named the team captain and asked to assume the primary scoring duties.
“Being injured last year became a motivator for me to come back and play well this year,” he said. “My goal was to help the team as much as possible, and I feel like I took on sort of a quarterback role.”
Ponce is quick to credit teammates Jorge Hernandez and Obed Garduño, as well as coach Doug Beveridge for helping him reach such an elite level this year. But most of Ponce’s success in 2003 had to do with his hard work in the offseason.
In addition to playing full-time for his club team, FC Portland, Ponce traveled to Wilmington, N.C., last summer for a national Elite Soccer Program (ESP) camp.
There, he and 150 other top high-school players learned soccer from the likes of German national team legend Jurgen Klinsmann, as well as top college coaches from around the country.
“The ESP camp really helped me figure out how far I wanted to go with soccer,” Ponce said. “Learning from the best made me realize that I really can get there if I set my mind to it.
“I don’t want to stop with this award, though. My goals are to play Division I college, and then maybe go pro.”
Before he can think about those goals, though, Ponce is concentrating on getting into Yavapai Junior College in Verde Valley, Ariz., next fall.
His former FC Portland coach, Tony Asquith, has recommended that Yavapai take a look at Ponce, and also that Ponce take a look at Yavapai, the five-time NJCAA national champions.
Seven of eight sophomores from this year’s national championship team will play Division I soccer next year, and Ponce wants to be the next in line.
“If I want to get into the University of Portland someday, I have to prove that I can be the kind of student they are looking for,” he said. “If I play at Yavapai for two years, I will have a better chance of getting into U of P. Then I can start thinking about how to get to the next level.”
Ponce said he dreams of some day playing professionally, either in the United States or in Europe. But, for now, he is going to savor the moment of becoming the first HRV soccer player ever to be named State Player of the Year.
“There’s no doubt that this season was my best at this school,” he said. “But they were all great. I give a lot of credit to Doug and my dad (Jose Ponce) for pushing me, and all my other coaches and teammates for helping me get this far.”
Ponce also speaks of the positive influences from local youth coaches such as Pero Lovrin, Rich Hanners, Louis Angelo and Stan Starr, as well as FC Portland coaches Jim Brazu and Asquith.
“Louis helped get me involved with soccer and then Pero helped me mature when I got a little older,” Ponce said. “Then I got to high school and Stan gave me a shot to play varsity as a freshman.
“Doug helped me grow even more over the past three seasons, and now I have Tony pulling all the strings for me to get into college. All the support has been amazing.”
Only time will tell whether Ponce can take his game the D-I college or professional level. But one thing is for sure: This multi-dimensional star will likely go as far as his feet and his positive attitude take him.
“I have to get serious now,” he said. “If I am given a chance to play college soccer, I won’t do anything to mess it up. I know I will have to improve my study habits, but I’m willing to work at it.
“They may have to help me so I can help them. But if I want to get to the highest level, which I do, I know I have to step up.”