JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Amar Mesic had to speak up.
Mesic was a four-year player for Mandarin’s soccer team and upped his production each season. He bumped up his goal scoring every year (from three to 10 to 12 to 15) and turned up his defensive pressure, too.
But what proved a greater help was Mesic’s ability to lead, and not only by measurable statistics that increased by the season.
His coach challenged Mesic to speak like he played. The result for Mesic, the All-News4Jax boys soccer player of the year, was the ability to come out of his comfort zone and lead the Mustangs in a different way than he’d done in the past.
“It is a little bit out of my personality. I’m typically a little bit more introverted,” he said. “But this season I had to really step out a little bit, be a little bit more extroverted to be able to lead the team. Not only through actions, but through words and stuff.”
The reason for that?
The bulk of the team (10 players) was made up of freshman and sophomores, identical to the breakdown in Mesic’s first season with the Mustangs in 2018. Instead of Mesic taking his traditional role as a lead-by-example player, coach Jason Cooley challenged him to be more assertive and lead with words, too.
“Coming in, there was a very few amount of seniors. A lot of freshmen. A lot of new faces. And honestly, wasn’t expecting a lot from the team because of the how new and fresh we were,” Mesic said. “But with the amount of unity, and, overall, the games we won, we were able to learn with each other a lot. It ended up being a good season because we blended well together. We all like came up and we wanted to win, there was that passion to win.”
The passion to win filtered throughout the team.
“I made him a captain for that reason. You know how you can just being more of a leader by example than your words, so to speak? That’s how he always was, by example,” Cooley said. “This year, he was much more of a vocal leader. I think he felt the pressure of it and that was a good thing. We had some very good seniors, but our team was quiet. He definitely grew into that role.”
The Mustangs were the best in the Gateway Conference again, edging Stanton for the conference crown in a 2-1 thriller in mid-January. They split with rival Fletcher. The Mustangs won their district and then suffered a 1-0 heartbreaker in the second round of the state playoffs to Lake Mary.
“I thought we had the talent to do it [win state], obviously we didn’t, but we had the talent,” Cooley said. “But we weren’t on the same page early [in the season]. It took his leadership to push it into a different direction.”
Pos., Player, School, Class, Notable
F Leo Caramagno, Nease, Sr.: Led Panthers in scoring with 13 goals, four assists for 10-5-3 squad.
F Jack Impey, Ponte Vedra, Sr.: Sharks’ leading scorer with 23. Had nine goals and five assists for 7-6-2 Ponte Vedra.
F Anes Tahirovic, Creekside, Sr.: Had 10 goals and six assists in 15 matches and was a physical defender and a powerful shot creator.
MF John Linge, St. Johns CD, Sr.: Exceptional season for the Spartans was headlined by Linge, who had 16 goals, 12 assists in state runner-up season.
MF Mikie Malota, Menendez, Sr.: Led Falcons to their best season in program history with 12 goals, 10 assists.
MF Sean Meisler, Bishop Kenny, Sr.: Second on Kenny in scoring with 16 goals, nine assists in 15 games. Second-team All-News4Jax selection last year.
MF Amar Mesic, Mandarin, Sr.: Had 15 goals, five assists to lead the Mustangs in scoring. Finished career with 40 goals, 15 assists. Second-team All-News4Jax selection last year.
MF Ryan Svela, Fletcher, Jr.: The Senators top player at making things happen. Had 17 assists, seven goals.
D Will Sylvan, Fletcher, Sr.: Led Senators in goal scoring (11) and added three assists.
D Ethan Alesch, Stanton, Sr.: Powerful defender for the Blue Devils in the back. Had Three goals and an assist.
D Dejan Pajkanovic, Mandarin, Sr.: One coach called him the most physical defender in town. Had a goal and a pair of assists and led the Mustangs to a 16-4-1 season.
GK Lincoln Hunt, Bolles, Jr.: Logged 1,438 minutes in 18 starts and posted seven shutouts. Had a 1.28 goals against average.
Pos., Player, School, Class, Notable
F Drew Ammon, Oakleaf, So.: Had 49 points for the Knights, with 18 goals and 13 assists.
F Antonio Manicotti, Mandarin, So.: Led the Mustangs in scoring with 14 assists, 11 goals.
F Martin Pineiros, Bishop Kenny, Jr.: Had 18 goals, 10 assists for Crusaders, both team-highs.
MF Joseph Alberto, Stanton, Jr.: Had four goals and two assists on the season for the 13-2-5, state semifinalist Blue Devils.
MF David Manaute, Menendez, Sr.: Big part of the best season in Falcons history (15-3).
MF Aldin Tahirovic, Creekside, Sr.: Team-leading 10 goals for 11-5-2 Knights. Added four assists.
D Sean Breuer, Bolles, Jr.: Versatile defender led team in scoring with 17 points (six goals, five assists).
D Sean Leapley, Ponte Vedra, Sr.: Strictly a lockdown defender for the Sharks. Logged 1,000 minutes in 7-6-2 season.
D Tristan Mirailh, Fletcher, Sr.: Had six goals, six assists and sparked a stout Senators defensive back.
D Andrew Pia, Bishop Kenny, Sr.: Had four assists and a goal and was a mainstay on the field (1,493 minutes played)
D Peter Smith, Creekside, Sr.: Played in 15 games for the Knights. Had three goals and an assist. Credited with 31 steals.
GK Ben Baker, Fletcher, Jr.: First team All-Gateway Conference selection. Had 101 saves, allowed just 10 goals.
Pos., Player, School, Class
D Christian Allmon, Ponte Vedra, Sr.
F Chris Anderson, Keystone Heights, Jr.
F Miles Andre, Stanton, Sr.
F Sean Baird, Orange Park, Sr.
MF Landon Brafford, St. Johns Country Day, Sr.
F Nick Clark, Ridgeview, Ridgeview, Sr.
GK Colby Cochran, Yulee, Sr.
F Will Curtis, St. Joseph, Jr.
MF Dru Detlefsen, St. Johns Country Day, Sr.
F Felipe Echeverri, Nease, Sr.
MF Jacob Falteimer, Stanton, Sr.
MF Mitch Fenton, Episcopal, Sr.
MF/D Nick Ferrer, Matanzas, Jr.
F Jacob Graston, St. Johns Country Day, Fr.
MF Victor Hesterman, Clay, Sr.
MF Maw Hu, Englewood, Sr.
MF Brady Johnson, Bartram Trail, Sr.
GK Christopher Kinsey, Nease, Sr.
F Elsheik Lagi, Sandalwood, Sr.
F Akien May-Parker, Oakleaf, So.
D Connor McGarity, Episcopal, Sr.
GK Brendan McNeil, St. Johns Country Day, Jr
D Will Moore, Bolles, Jr.
MF Shreyas Muthyala, Nease, Sr.
MF Kieran Nicholson, Episcopal, Sr.
D Chris Russell, Stanton, Sr.
GK Colby Strickland, Columbia, Sr.
D Jacob Walker, Fleming Island, Sr.
MF Thomas Whitehouse, St. Joseph, Sr.
The All-News4Jax boys soccer team was compiled with input and nominations from area coaches.