Pavle Atanackovic asked his Crescenta Valley High Coach Kiel McClung an interesting question prior to the beginning of the winter boys' soccer season.
The Falcons standout forward inquired about how many goals his coach had scored during his junior season when McClung played in high school?
The answer was 33.
McClung's was himself a standout at Quartz Hill High in Palmdale. The coach's tally that year helped lead the Rebels to a co-CIF Southern Section Division I championship, as McClung was named the Golden League Player of the Year, as well as the division's player of the year.
"All right, I'm beating you," Atanackovic told his coach before the Falcons first match.
The coach welcomed the challenge.
"I hope you do, because that means our team will have success if you beat me," McClung replied.
Atanackovic came close to keeping his promise, tying the mark by tallying 33 goals this year for Crescenta Valley.
The junior was indeed a prolific scorer, and his exploits helped lead the Falcons to a fine campaign. The team boasted a 15-3-5 record and put up an 11-0-3 mark in the Pacific League to secure the team's second consecutive league championship. In the postseason, Crescenta Valley advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division III quarterfinals for the first time in program history.
The breakout season helped Atanackovic land the Pacific League's Most Valuable Player award and paved the way for a place on the All-CIF Division III first team.
He finished the season with four assists to go with his 33 goals, which accounted for more than half of the Falcons' 58 goals this season.
McClung said Atanackovic was definitely fueled by the challenge.
"The kids were teasing me when he had 30 or 31 goals, asking what I'm going to do if he beats me," said McClung, who was named the Pacific League Coach of the Year. "I said, 'I want him to beat me. That means we're winning games if he's scoring that many goals …' It was a friendly wager and I hope he goes for 40 next season. I think he's got the ability."
Atanackovic's incredible junior campaign on the pitch looked a lot different from his accomplishments in 2010, when he scored 12 goals and received All-Area and all-league first-team honors. His drastic jump this season led Atanackovic to being named unanimously the All-Area Boys' Soccer Player of the Year by the sports editors and writers of the Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader and La Cañada Valley Sun.
Of course, Atanackovic didn't score all those goals without a great deal of help, and he'll be the first to admit that fact.
"[Our team] had good communication and they knew when to get me the ball," he said. "They made it easier for me [to score] because they knew where I was going to be and they found me perfectly."
McClung also acknowledged that the team had a hand to play in Atanackovic's success.
"It's a credit to our team that Pavle is getting this great award because he was the finishing touch on so many players behind him that were able to set him up for those chances," McClung said.
Two of those players who constantly set up Atanackovic were midfielders Alex Berger and Salar Hajimirsadegh, who earned All-Area second- and third-team selections, respectively. They both joined their forward as the first Falcons in program history to be named to the CIF Southern Section Division III first team.
Berger finished the year with 15 assists and four goals and Hajimirsadeghi had eight assists and six goals. Their passes often made scoring look easy for Atanackovic.
"To be a good goal scorer, it's about being in the right place at the right time," McClung said. "Some people call that lucky, but when you do it 33 times in one season I think time and time again Pavle has proven it's not lucky."
McClung said Atanackovic's superb field vision is actually one of the player's greatest assets on the field.
Atanackovic credits his continued success in the sport in part to his Pasadena-based Golden State Soccer Club. Under the direction of La Cañada High girls' soccer Coach Louie Bilowitz. Atanackovic said playing for the club team has helped hone his soccer skills.
"I think the thing it most improved for me was my understanding of positioning on the field," Atanackovic said. "My coach told me to stay in the center of the field so I can see and receive the ball from all angles."
McClung has also seen Atanackovic's confidence level rise after playing for the Golden State Soccer Club the past two years, which has been key in the player's transition from a first-team all-league member to the player of the year this season.
This past season has been "unbelievable," Atanackovic said — from wining a league title for the second year in a row, to scoring 33 goals and hauling in plenty of individual honors. Now his focus is on making his senior season the best of his high school career.
As much as he wants to beat McClung's 33-goal mark, he has bigger concerns.
"I'm looking forward to actually winning CIF because that's my main goal," Atanackovic said. "We hoped to win it this year because we had a really good team. I thought we had a good run and this next year I think we're going to go even further with all the talent we have coming back."