CV midfielder reaping CIF rewards

Alex Berger couldn't have scripted a better senior season while patrolling the midfield for the Crescenta Valley High boys' soccer team.

After helping the Falcons win the CIF Southern Section Division IV championship — the first in the program's history — and leading them to an appearance in the CIF Southern California Division I Regional Championships title match, Berger was honored as the Pacific League's Most Valuable Player.

Berger wasn't through having accolades showered on him, as he was selected All-CIF Division IV Player of the Year on Monday.

In all, eight local players were bestowed with All-CIF recognition. The CIF Southern Section office unveiled the first teams for all seven divisions.

Berger finished with 10 goals and 29 assists for 49 points and played a huge role in helping Crescenta Valley win the league championship for the third straight season.

The latest honor given to Berger caught him off guard.

"I'm shocked and it's very cool," Berger said. "It's an honor to be named player of the year and I'm so excited.

"This tops off everything after winning CIF and going to [the regionals]. It's not just about me, but my teammates who helped make this possible. Everybody put in a lot of work. It ranks right up and it's something special. I'm happy for all of our players getting All-CIF."

In addition, Crescenta Valley first-year Coach Grant Clark was named the division's coach of the year after leading the Falcons to a splendid 23-1-6 record.

Clark attributed his award to his players and assistants.

"It means a lot and it's a nice recognition because there were a lot of hours and hard work put in," Clark said. "In order to get an award like this, you have to have a good team."

Clark said Berger was deserving of his latest honor.

"He's just a fabulous player," Clark said. "Without Alex, our offense doesn't run as smoothly.

"I think all the coaches in the division had it right selecting Berger."

Pavle Atanackovic, Salar Hajimirsadeghi and Nick Ruiz of Crescenta Valley were also named to the first team. St. Francis' Matt Laterza earned a spot on the Division I first team.

Atanackovic, a senior forward, finished with a school-best 39 goals and nine assists for 87 points and was named to the first team for the second season in a row. Hajimirsadeghi, a senior midfielder, collected five goals and three assists despite missing several matches because of a shoulder injury. Ruiz, a senior goalkeeper, notched 14 shutouts.

"Pavle's a great player and a finisher and he deserves it," Clark said. "Salar is the glue who holds the whole team together and has a remarkable work ethic and desire.

"With Nick, without a good goalie, you don't go far, and he made a lot of great saves."

Laterza, a senior midfielder/forward, received his first All-CIF honor. Laterza finished with a team-high 13 goals and six assists after being shifted to forward and helped the Golden Knights advance to the second round of the playoffs.

Laterza said things fell into place for him after making the seamless position transition.

"I worked hard and wanted to do anything I could to help our team," Laterza said. "My teammates were the ones who helped me out.

"To get this honor is great."

Said St. Francis Coach Glen Appels, whose team took third in the Mission League: "He's a fun player to coach and a good teammate to have. He deserves the recognition."

Crescenta Valley senior defender Matt Schmutzer was named to the second team, while Crescenta Valley's Erick Trejo, a junior midfielder/forward, was named to the third team after registering 10 goals and 11 assists.

St. Francis' Thomas Banks was named to the third team after registering one goal and two assists. The senior defender served as one of the Golden Knights' top defenders.

Elsewhere in the area: Burroughs' Francisco Baez (first team, Division IV), Kevin Garcia (second team) and Ozzie Castro (third team); La Salle's Cesco Luna (first team, Division IV), Hayden Berge (second team) and Andrew Powers (third team); La Cañada's Armand Bagramyan (first team, Division V), Aidan Tourani (second team) and Jeff Becker (third team); and Pasadena Poly's Benny Menar (first team, Division VI), and Ali Kamal, Ian McKnight and Chris Ward (third team) were all selected.

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