Prep boys' soccer: Hunter's freshman keeper a surprise sensation
West Valley City • Sometimes Justin Motzkus dives in front of a shot and makes the save and his Hunter teammates taunt the shooter, sarcasm thick in their voices.
"But that wasn't supposed to happen," they say. "He wasn't supposed to save it. He's just a freshman!"
They've gotten to teasing their opponents now, but it wasn't long ago when the 14-year-old goalie was a near-anonymous newcomer in tryouts.
"I was just ready to play JV," Motzkus said. "But I wanted to take anything I could get."
Senior midfielder Raul Cavazos knew him a bit they play at different ages of the same club but was a bit surprised when the Wolverines started taking shots on him from the 18-yard line.
"It was pretty tough to shoot on him." Cavazos said. "He reacts really well. He knows the field and where to throw himself to stop a shot."
The 6-foot-2 Motzkus has been one of the big surprises for Hunter. The Wolverines returned a good contingent of starters and fully expected to be winning this season. So far, the year has gone pretty much as planned, with the team at 12-2-2.
But Motzkus was a late addition, a player who nearly chose to play for Herriman, but instead decided going to the school a mile from his house would be a better bet. All he's done since is beat out a veteran starter, record nine shutouts and help the Wolverines win a region title.
Hunter coach Larry Garahana had seen and heard a bit about the big freshman. For Hunter, a school lacking in soccer tradition compared with some of the 5A powerhouses, getting a player with Olympic Development Program experience is a rare and welcomed boost.
"We just happened to have a great player living in our boundary," Garahana said. "When we had a competition going during preseason, it was hard to pick at things he was doing. He just brought a level of dedication that we were looking for."
Motzkus initially played as a forward until he was 9, when he filled in for a missing keeper because he was the tallest player on his team. That initial foray into the goal has blossomed into a very promising career for the frosh, who still commutes to practice from Hunter Junior High.
He's trained with coaches from Real Salt Lake and the team's associated academy. He's played high-level soccer with his ODP and USA club teams. But even at Hunter, Motzkus has dealt with new challenges namely, playing against kids his own size.
"It's definitely really mental," he said. "You have to communicate, you have to be ready for anything. The pressure can really build because you're playing with a lot of seniors, but also you want to play well for yourself."
A returning core of defensemen do their best to keep Motzkus clean. Travis Brinkerhoff and Nick Davis lead an extremely tough unit that has done a good job of keeping Motzkus from going up against shooters alone.
But even when he is alone, Motzkus can carry his own weight. He's stopped two of the three penalty kicks he's faced this season, a feat that helped win the respect of many of his older teammates.
"He's got a lot of confidence, and it really helps him out in those situations," Brinkerhoff said. "I think he could communicate a bit better and just be more vocal. But he's been really good for us, and we feel really good going into the playoffs with him."
The playoffs represent a barrier that Hunter has struggled against, not making the field in 2010 and 2011. The team lost in the first round in 2012.
West Valley schools don't typically stand out in the soccer postseason, and the Wolverines already are hearing doubts from other schools and even their classmates. But with a renewed sense of unity and a goalkeeper who plays older than he is, Hunter's ready for prime time.
"We're going to show them," Cavazos said. "We're going to prove them wrong."
Class 5A tournament
4 p.m. Tuesday
• Bingham at Alta
• West at Layton
• Northridge at Hunter
• Copper Hills at Lone Peak
• Fremont at Viewmont
• Jordan at Lehi
• Taylorsville at Weber
• Riverton vs. Brighton at Albion Middle School
Class 4A tournament
4 p.m. Tuesday
• Cyprus at Olympus
• Mountain Crest at Orem
• Timpanogos at Roy
• Skyline at East
• Mountain View at Logan
• Hillcrest at Bountiful
• Springville at Murray
• Bonneville at Maple Mountain