By Jim Irish
Photos by Mike Valiska
Cedar Creek’s Alex Denova had scored a goal in the first District 23-5A soccer opener at Elgin on Jan. 25, 2022.
Shortly after, someone fell on his left leg. He felt searing pain in his knee. The verdict was a tear in his medial collateral ligament (MCL). Just like that, his junior season was finished.
He endured three months of recovery but escaped surgery.
This past season, Denova, a four-year starter at midfielder, returned to direct traffic for the Eagles. Only 5-foot-4, Denova has excellent technical skills and quickness.
Although they finished sixth in 23-5A with a 5-8-1 record (10-10-2 overall), district coaches recently selected Denova the MVP at midfielder and first team.
“I was actually kind of surprised because I was coming back from injury and not playing almost the whole (last) year,” Denova said about the MVP selection. “I thought I had a pretty good season. I wish we would have made the playoffs.”
Denova scored six goals and had four assists for the season but said “It wasn’t my best.”
First-year coach Joel Parker, who said he was terminated after the conclusion of the season, nominated Denova for the MVP award, “and the other coaches agreed because he was the player who made everything work for us.”
"... He was an exceptional player who each team had to account for."
-- Connally coach Ryan Ford, speaking about Alex Denova
Connally coach Ryan Ford, whose team defeated Cedar Creek twice in district and advanced to the state semifinals, said about Denova, “… He was an exceptional player who each team had to account for.”
Denova started soccer at age six and played at least eight seasons on scholarship with FC Westlake, a strong club program in Austin.
“Alexis Denova is a special player,” said Conor Edmondson, Denova’s former coach who is currently director of operations at FC Westlake. “He is a quality kid and a relentless worker, who definitely should play college soccer.”
Denova's plans include college soccer
Denova plans to play college soccer. At the moment, he is drawing interest from Concordia University, East Texas Baptist University, Centenary (La.), College, and Huston-Tillotson in Austin. He prefers to remain in Central Texas and was invited to a practice at Huston-Tillotson last month.
“I thought the program was pretty good from my experience training with them,” Denova said.
Cedar Creek forward Manny Carreno, a senior, was chosen to the all-district first team. He led the Eagles with 19 goals and also had four assists.
Forward Juan Guerrero, a junior, was selected to the second team with 15 goals overall.
Named honorable mention were Jonathan Bueno, defender, junior; Alexis Tinajero, goalkeeper, senior; and Gustavo Tobias, midfielder, senior.
Bastrop forward James Ramon received first-team honors. Ramon broke the single-season scoring record with 40 goals and had nine assists. In district, he scored 12 goals with three assists.
“James Ramon was the most technically gifted player in the program,” Bastrop coach Marc Cox said. “When he was locked in, he was nearly unstoppable for opposing defenses.”
With Ramon a prolific scorer, Bastrop finished in fifth place in district with a 6-7-1 record (17-7-1 overall) and swept Cedar Creek for the first time in school history.
"James Ramon was the most technically gifted player in the program."
-- Bastrop coach Marc Lopez
Bastrop senior Omar Cervantes was also named to the all-district first team. Cervantes manned the defense at center back but still managed three goals and three assists.
“At 5-6, 135 pounds, Omar was one of the strongest guys in the weightroom, pound for pound,” Cox said. “His unique blend of skill and character fortified a defense that yielded only 1.16 goals per game.”
Bastrop players chosen for the second team were Tommy Trainor, defender, senior; Sal Uresti, midfielder, senior; Milton Velasquez, defender, junior; and Isaac Dugger, midfielder, sophomore.
Honorable mention picks were Josue Cervantes, midfielder, senior; William Navarro, midfielder, senior; Ezra Gaona, goalkeeper, sophomore; and Bryan Ponce, midfielder, senior.
Jim Irish is a freelance writer in Bastrop, Texas