Consistency is the name of the game for the Cardinal Mooney High senior.
By BILL SULLIVAN
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- You keep expecting something different from Cardinal Mooney senior Alex Simon, but his soccer game stays consistent like striking the same piano key, over and over.
On a Saturday afternoon at the Poland Middle School soccer pitch, Simon performs a textbook-perfect high chest trap and delivers a deft one-touch pass to start another Mooney counterattack.
Later, defending his ground in the middle of the turf, he pulls off a stunning high jump, spinning to head the ball free from an opponent who is perhaps 4-inches shorter.
This midfielder's play is so regular, his game so solid, you sometimes forget how talented he is.
Mooney won the game 3-0 and Simon didn't have a goal or an assist. His play, however, helped the Cardinals dictate the tempo and he served as the trigger man on the frequent attacks.
"How Alex goes, goes our team," said Mooney coach Lenny Krispinsky, a veteran of two decades, including the last 11 at Mooney.
"If he runs, if he plays well, we win. If he's out of sync for some reason, it puts a little more pressure on everybody else on the team."
Player of the year
Simon was chosen third-team all-state last year and tabbed The Vindicator's player of the year.
In talking to Simon, you sense he's more proud of his academics than of his athletics, although he excels at both, and likely the word "proud" doesn't appear in his vocabulary.
As a junior he took the ACT and earned a perfect 18 in math and a 30 composite. That's good enough to draw the attention of Ivy League school admission recruiters. Simon also received a perfect 800 on the math section of the SAT, producing a 1480 out of 1600 possible.
At Cardinal Mooney, honor courses are graded higher than the standard academic curriculum where a 4.0 is straight-A work.
How's Simon's grade-point average?
"It's around 4.1 right now, I think," he said.
"I could bring it up this year a little."
He's considering attending Notre Dame, Ohio State and New York University, but NYU doesn't even have a soccer team.
"I've been looking for soccer and other stuff -- academics," Simon said of the search, knowing his future doesn't depend on kicking an inflated ball.
Last season Mooney advanced to the regional for the first time in school history. Defending state champion Gates Mills Hawken took Simon out of his game and eliminated the Cardinals in double overtime, 3-2. It was one of the few times the four-year starter didn't turn in A-plus work.
Now, the man with the Woodstock-generation hairstyle (18 months in growing) knows the team's future depends on his consistent play.
He's working on his defense, on making good choices with the ball and on the leadership role that's been thrust upon him.
He says his role is "getting in the middle and distributing; taking passes and making passes to other people."
Late in the first half against Poland, while Mooney led just 1-0, Simon drew a yellow card and watched the remainder of the period from the bench.
The team rallied and scored in the first 90 seconds of the second half, effectively putting the match out of reach.
"Alex is a good player," Poland coach Chris Labatte said. "As long as he keeps his head about him, he's normally a real good player and can do some good things."
Good things, like serving as a role model. He tutors other students and participates on the school's math team.
Krispinsky says Simon is "one of the best, if not the best," midfielders he's coached.
Likely many teachers share the feeling.