STARKVILLE — When the all-state and all-star soccer lists were released, there was a glaring omission: Alvaro Pichardo.
The Starkville High School forward was one of Mississippi”s most sought-after college talents this season, both for his work as a Yellow Jacket and as one of two players from the state to make the Olympic Development Program Region 3 team.
His 17 goals weren”t enough.
His 11 assists didn”t cut it, either.
His leadership in guiding the Yellow Jackets to a 16-2-1 record and a second-round berth in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A playoffs didn”t impress.
However, the Commercial Dispatch 2011 Soccer Player of the Year wasn”t out to impress pundits and opposing coaches.
“I wanted to go out there and lead my team to be the best team we could be,” Pichardo said. “I honestly didn”t care about getting any recognition; I was focused on winning.”
Starkville High coach Brian Bennett, who has tutored Pichcardo for five seasons, said the Mississippi Association of Coaches, which selects seniors for state all-star squads, voted on the teams just two weeks into the season after it decided to move the game from June to February.
Bennett said he knew Pichardo had a challenge to crack the Clarion Ledger”s first team all-state list, which had eight of 12 players from the Jackson area.
But he didn”t think the best player from the best team in North Mississippi would miss out in a coaches” vote.
“I wasn”t at the meetings, so I don”t know what coaches were making the decisions or who made the team,” Bennett said, “but they definitely missed on one of the best players in the state. The MAC needs to rethink their system on nominating players only after two weeks into the season because obviously some very good players are being left off the team.”
Pichardo capped his standout prep career by signing a soccer scholarship with the University of Mobile, a consistent shoe-in for the NAIA national tournament. He”s the second consecutive Yellow Jacket to be named The Commercial Dispatch Soccer Player of the Year, joining teammate/captain Price Day.
He helped Starkville beat rival Tupelo High for the second time in as many games, nailing a left-footed shot from the edge of the box in the fourth minute to give Starkville the only goal of the match.
The goal stands out as his most important because it was the winner in their most important game of the season, but also because it pegged another notch for his team in the North Mississippi rivalry.
Tupelo has been the class of the district through many of the years they”ve played in the same 5A and 6A districts.
With Starkville dropping down to 5A next season, it”s unclear how many matches the two teams will play each year and if the rivalry will have the same luster without district standings at stake.
Either way, Pichardo was glad to leave his mark.
“Every year when our schedule came, out the first thing I would look for was the date we played Tupelo,” Pichardo said. “Tupelo and us are the best teams in the north and they are also in our district which makes even more competitive. I think I”ve helped Starkville to be more competitive in the series against Tupelo because we didn”t just beat them one time, we beat them twice. So we proved that we can beat them and the guys will have the confidence that they can get it done.”
Pichardo, who had a youth-team trial with Mexican club Pachuca two years ago, grew from a technically gifted goal-scorer to a complete offensive threat for the Yellow Jackets, Bennett said.
He was once a timid player who would concede the leadership roles to older players, although from as early as eighth grade he was the most gifted player on the training ground.
Like many younger players, Pichardo didn”t have the frame to bang with bigger defenders who could knock him off the ball.
“I would say between his sophomore and junior years is when Alvaro really made the jump to the next level,” Bennett said. “He started weight training and running and you could physically see the difference. He came into his junior year really looking to take on physical challenges from defenders.”
Pichardo said along with Day, Addison Watson, JR Tomlinson and Kase Kingery, the Yellow Jackets have the deepest and talented squad in the Golden Triangle. But as the key offensive player and best ball-handler for Starkville, what he allowed Bennett to do in game-planning was unmatched by any of his teammates.
As a true two-footed player, Pichardo could be played at any midfield position or at forward.
The technical advantages are numerous, Bennett said.
“Sometimes you want to match your best defensive midfielder with the other team”s best offensive midfielder (height, speed, quickness whatever the case may be),” Bennett said, “and if they”re both right footed players your midfielder may not be as offensively productive in that situation, being moved to the left side of the field.
“You can match Alvaro up with a strong offensive player at any outside position and still get great offensive productivity out of him because he”s comfortable going any direction.”
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