Player of the Year: Matt Beckman, McDonogh
The senior is a strong, all-around player whose powerful foot, ruggedness, speed and knack for putting the ball in the net made him respected by every opponent and dangerous from long distances.
In his primary offensive center-midfield role this season, he showed poise under pressure by scoring 26 goals and making 15 assists. Seven of those goals were game-winners, including the 3-0 Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship game against Calvert Hall.
With pinpoint accuracy and flair, he took his team's long kicks and throws. Also an excellent defender, Beckman completed a remarkable four-year career with 68 goals and 31 assists despite playing defense two of those years.
He culminated that career by being named an All-American this season. Beckman also was the leading scorer for the two-time national champion Casa Mia club team.
He'll play for Maryland next year.
Coach of the Year: Steve Nichols, McDonogh
The list of his team's accomplishments is impressive. It never dropped from The Sun's No. 1 ranking this season, his eighth as head coach at McDonogh, and was 13-2 against other area ranked teams. The Eagles defeated three nationally ranked teams, including St. Benedict's (N.J.), 3-1, when that team was ranked No. 1. And they finished ranked No. 5 nationally in the StudentSportsSoccer.com Fab 50 poll.
The Eagles outscored opponents 68-7, and won the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship, their third title under the 35-year-old coach. They've made the championship game seven straight seasons.
Nichols, 146-32-8 for his career, played two years professionally for the Baltimore Spirit indoors and Baltimore Bays outdoors before joining McDonogh's staff as an assistant under Bill Seal. A Boys Latin graduate, he played collegiately at James Madison and Loyola.
Steve Basso, Hammond
To beat Hammond, opposing teams knew they had to try to stop the senior, who returned this season from playing in Germany to become Howard County's Player of the Year.
He helped the Golden Bears, 3-11 last season, to an 8-2 league record, just a half-game away from winning a county title behind Howard powers River Hill and Mount Hebron.
Hammond was the only team to beat Class 3A state champion River Hill, and he had the game-winning assist. Basso scored eight goals, more than half his team's total of 15, and five of them were game-winners, including four in 1-0 games. He also had two assists, and played sweeper late in games to protect leads.
Scott DeFrances, Atholton
The senior set the tone with aggressive play in back, smothering potential shooters, directing the defense and clearing balls with a stunningly powerful foot. He could also jump above the crossbar and was tough to beat in the air.
If championships are won on defense, then he certainly was the key to No. 9 Atholton's Class 2A state title, their first since 1990. His excellent ball control allowed him to push forward to midfield when his team trailed, and he finished with six goals and five assists.
Assigned to take his team's long kicks and penalty kicks, the fourth-year varsity player scored a game-winning penalty kick against Calvert in the playoffs.
Alex Horwath, McDonogh
A dominant force when it came to commanding his box, the long-armed senior gobbled up every throw-in and penalty kick and allowed only seven goals while compiling a school-record 15 shutouts.
Committed to Connecticut, the rugged 6-foot-3, 180-pound captain had a 97-percent save average in his first healthy season since his freshman year. He recovered from brain surgery during his sophomore year, after a severe concussion caused him to go temporarily blind.
He finished his career with 43 shutouts and one Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title.
Shawn Houseknecht, Archbishop Curley
A fiery, four-year starter, he endured two losing seasons before leading the No. 7 Friars to back-to-back winning seasons. They were 18-8 this season after going 22-1-2 a year ago.
His poise and ability to use either foot made him tough to defend with his back to the goal. His unselfishness went hand-in-hand with his strong distribution skills.
Houseknecht scored in 13 of Curley's 26 games and he had a goal or an assist in 17. He had three multiple-goal games, including one hat trick, and finished with 17 goals and 14 assists. For his career, he scored 42 goals and had 34 assists.
T. J. Jager, Loch Raven
He seemed omni-present, roaming everywhere from his sweeper position to take free kicks and corner kicks that he blasted high and far. Jager led the No. 13 Raiders to 15 wins and 14 shutouts, and was their second-leading scorer with eight goals and 10 assists, including a game-winner against Centennial.
Utilizing his mobility, field sense and aggressiveness, he stifled opposing teams, and his knowledge of the game made him a virtual coach on the field.
A four-year starter, he played forward for two losing seasons before switching to sweeper and turning around the Raiders, who produced 28 combined wins his junior and senior seasons. He's looking to play at Towson.
Justin Lichtfuss, McDonogh
The four-year starter absorbed attack after attack from his central defender's position, forcing opponents to cough up the ball before they could shoot.
In his first healthy season since his freshman year, McDonogh's unsung hero proved to be one of the best pure defenders the school has had. He scored one goal and had one assist.
Chosen first-team All-South and first-team All-State by the Maryland Association of Coaches of Soccer, Lichtfuss can claim a good share of credit for McDonogh's school-record 15 shutouts. He will play at Wake Forest.
Nino Mangione, Calvert Hall
Like an unwelcome house guest, the senior sweeper was always showing up where opponents didn't want him to be. His knack for anticipating a play's flow and then dismantling it, was the force that drove No. 3 Calvert Hall to the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship game, which it lost to McDonogh, 3-0.
A two-year starter, the team captain's hallmarks were his leadership and vision. He also had the speed, strength and toughness to take command of a game. He went forward when his team trailed late in games, scoring three goals and making one assist. He's looking to play at Towson, UMBC or Loyola.
Mike Marchiano, McDonogh
When fully healthy, he's the most complete player in the area. The senior center midfielder, a four-year starter and team leader who missed most of his junior season with a broken foot, is skilled, strong in the air, rugged and knowledgeable. He can thread seemingly impossible needles with his passes. And can anticipate two or three passes ahead.
Marchiano had 17 assists, breaking the school record of 16, and he scored five goals, including game-winners against Loyola and Calvert Hall.
He's an All-State, All-South and All-America selection. The captain of the two-time national champion Casa Mia Bays is headed to Maryland next season.
Evan Minarik, Fallston
The Harford County Player of the Year led the No. 4-ranked Cougars to an 18-1 season and the state semifinals with his team-leading 17 goals and 10 assists. The senior, routinely double-teamed and sometimes triple-teamed, was involved in almost half of his teams' 63 goals.
The team captain scored in all but three games, and could play multiple positions. He filled in at central defender one game.
Minarik understood the game's subtleties and always maintained a positive attitude. "He's the best player I've ever had the good fortune to coach," said Cougars coach Christopher Hoover.
Eric Shadoff, Mount Hebron
The senior transfer from McDonogh, where he started for three seasons, quickly established himself as one of the premier players in Howard County. From his offensive center-midfield position, he provided the kind of scoring threat that the No. 5 Vikings desperately needed as they drove to a 12-2-1 record and a share of the county title with River Hill, the only team that beat them.
Shadoff, who consistently won 50/50 balls, displayed excellent skills, field vision and toughness as he scored 10 goals and had eight assists.
He'll continue his soccer career at Delaware.
Tyler Zentz, Towson
The senior can crank a shot with the best of them, as he showed by scoring 24 goals. He also had 12 assists.
The four-year starter scored in 16 of 18 games and passionately led his team to the regional championship game, where the No. 15 Generals (13-5) lost. It was their fourth staight regional title game. They won twice and were state co-champs in 2003.
Zentz was forced to play midfield defense more frequently this year than in past seasons. He used his knowledge of the game to help his teammates, acting much like a coach on the field.
Xavier Rock, McDonogh, junior, forward
Will Schoeberlein, Gilman, senior, forward
Justin Turco, Arch. Spalding, senior, forward
Rob Carper, Mount Hebron, senior, midfield
Andrew Engel, Old Mill, senior midfield
Antonio Almario, River Hill, senior, defense
Tim McMullen, Old Mill, senior, defense
Jonathan Ports, McDonogh, junior, defense
Matt Stara, River Hill, junior, defense
Akira Fitzgerald, Loyola, junior, goalie
Chris Jones, Century, senior, goalie
Andrew Tress, Fallston, senior, goalie
Note: Teams were selected by Rick Belz after consultation with The Sun staff and area coaches.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun