By Alex Byington and Kevin Posival
Killeen Daily Herald
Harker Heights boys soccer coach Jared Cruddas knew if the Knights were going to lock up a third playoff appearance in four years, it was going to be because of his four seniors.
But it was his two defensive cogs - four-year starter Johnee Jasso and goalkeeper Nick Merutka - that helped them accomplish that goal two weeks earlier than a year ago.
"Without Nick and Johnee, we're probably not even in the playoffs," Cruddas said.
The duo were rewarded Monday when Jasso was crowned the district's defensive MVP and Merutka was named the goalkeeper MVP for the second-straight season when the District 12-5A all-district list released.
Despite his role as a defender, Jasso still managed to lead the district with 13 assists - all coming courtesy of his patented long throw-ins - and added three goals, while Merutka broke his own school record for saves in a season with 164, including a season-high 19 saves against A&M Consolidated on March 24.
"Nick and Johnee were solid," Cruddas said. "They were consistent in play, they were reliable at all times, and you could always count on them."
Belton senior forward Luke Villamaria was named the District 12-5A MVP and one of the Tigers' six first-team selections.
Belton coach Tarcisio Mosnia could not be reached for comment.
The Knights' other two seniors weren't forgotten, though, as forwards Michael McNamara and Angel Pulido were named to the first team along with junior Ethan Roden. Roden will be one of five all-district returners for the Knights next season.
"It was fun with these guys," Cruddas said of his seniors. "They played four years together and ... it's going to be tough to replace them."
Villamaria is the Tigers' second straight 12-5A MVP and third in the last four years. Tayron Martin earned the honor last year.
Belton, which won the 12-5A title but lost to Dallas Jesuit in the second round of the playoffs Friday, had four juniors make the first team and three make the second team.
Villamaria and fullback Logan Hellinghausen were the Tigers' only two first-team seniors. Juniors Cameron Cooper, Angel Hernandez, Carlo Mosnia and Alvaro Martinez also made the first team for Belton.
Ellison seniors Bruno Ribeiro and Garrett Strickland were both first-team selections as were Shoemaker senior defender Elijah Bermia and Copperas Cove junior midfielder Dallas Murchinson.
A&M Consolidated's Kolby Graff shared the 12-5A offensive MVP award with Bryan's Renee Juarez. Consolidated freshman Daniel Zivney was the district's newcomer of the year and Chris Kovacs was the district's coach of the year.