Marquette's Paniagua kept his eyes on the prize
PREP YEAR IN REVIEW: Small Schools Boys Soccer Player of the Year Myles Paniagua, Marquette
ALTON - Myles Paniagua has kept his eye on the prize. Perhaps it's because he saw the prize up-close early on. It's a trait that helped him become one of the area's most prolific goal scorers during his career at Marquette Catholic.
It's also a trait that has helped him become the 2022-23 Telegraph Small School Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
Paniagua scored 35 goals and added 10 assists as a senior for the Explorers and helped lead them to a 17-6 record.
"Scoring goals was my job as the forward," Paniagua said, "but none of those goals would have happened without my teammates.
"I really tried to focus more on moving off the ball and creating space for me or someone else to run into."
That plan evidently worked. The Explorers scored a total of 106 goals on the season.
"I felt as if I was a leader on the team," he said, "but I'm really thankful I had the opportunity to be in that spot to be able to lead and have my teammates trust in me to take on such an honorable role."
Marquette coach Brian Hoener said Paniagua's versatility was key to the team's success.
"Myles had a tremendous year for us," Hoener said. "He was dangerous in every facet at the game, scored on set pieces, scored through our team build up, scored by making individual plays, helped in our possession and initiated our defense."
The Explorers, who won the Gateway Metro Conference championship, faced a rugged non-conference schedule that included several Class 3A and Class 2A teams, some with enrollments of more than 1,000 or even 2,000 students. MCHS had an enrollment of 426 students last school year.
Marquette more than held its own against that heady competition. Among the Explorers' victories were wins over Class 3A teams Granite City and Belleville East and eventual Class 2A state runner-up Chatham Glenwood. Even their losses were impressive in some instances, including 2-1 defeats to 3A teams Alton and Edwardsville and a 4-2 defeat at the hands of 3A O'Fallon in the season opener.
Because of the IHSA's success multiplier, Marquette was moved to Class 2A last season. That meant a showdown with defending Class 2A state champion Triad in the Triad 2A Regional Tourney's championship game. The Explorers lost 4-2.
"The season didn’t end as we had hoped it would," Paniagua said. "Losing to a great Triad team was hard, but you can't just focus on that. During the season, we beat a very good Belleville East team. Earlier in the season, we beat Chatham Glenwood, who turned out to be the No 2 team in the state in 2A.
"We were never out of any game we played."
Paniagua didn't hide in games against the larger schools on the schedule. He scored two goals against Glenwood, had two goals and an assist in two games against Triad, scored a goal against Edwardsville, three against Highland and had a goal and an assist against O'Fallon.
"Myles showed up in big moments for us," Hoener said, "and he made a lot of big plays throughout the year to help us to have a successful year."
Paniagua played for three different head coaches during his prep career at Marquette. As a freshman, Tim Gould's only season as MCHS coach resulted in Class 1A state runner-up finish. Then came two challenging COVID-affected seasons during calendar year 2021 under Jerry DiSalvo, followed by his senior season under Hoener.
"From freshman year to senior year, learned a lot," Paniagua said, "not just about soccer, but about life."
Getting within a victory of the state championship as a freshman helped him put it all in perspective.
"Coming in my freshman year," he said, "I didn’t know much about high school soccer, but Coach Gould was a great coach. I’m very thankful I had had him my freshman year. He taught me a lot. Going to that state championship game and even playing in it as a freshman was a feeling I can't even compare to anything.
"Sophomore year, we had the pandemic and although we had great players, we didn’t have a postseason (because of COVID), so we were just playing to be better than we were the day before. It disappointing, because we will never know how good we would have been in the postseason.
"My junior year was tough because I personally was battling injures and was out for most of the season, but coming back and losing to Highland in the regional was a tough pill to swallow. What I learned from that is to never look past anyone in playoff soccer.
"Senior year, the team was very determined to work hard every day and play with high intensity in every situation. Having a team of mostly seniors gave us that brotherhood bond, in my opinion. I think that’s why we worked so hard for each other. It was truly an unforgettable year."
Looking back, Paniagua said he's been fortunate with the club soccer coaches he's had as well.
"I played for Alton United up until I was 14, then switched to Alton Irish," he said. "With Alton United, my coach my Eric Zyung who’s the CM girls coach and Coach (Ryan) Anderson was my Irish coach. I was in great hands with both of these coaches over the years and I wouldn’t be where I am now without them."
Where Paniagua is now is preparing for a college soccer career that will get under way next month at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville.
"I made the decision to go to SWIC because I thought it was best for me," he said. "Meeting with Coach 'Z' (Alton native Lindsay Kennedy Eversmeyer) and just getting to know her and her knowledge about the game, I thought was great. I'm very exited to continue my soccer journey, especially with a few of my teammates."