By Jon Saperstein Herald Writer
Reilly Cross was a short, skinny freshman when he made the Snohomish High School boys varsity soccer team in 2009.
Although at the time he was good enough to play at one of the top club levels in the country for his age, his talent didn’t earn him the respect of his older teammates. Cross said he was picked on and frequently was the object of their practical jokes.
“That kind of made me who I was,” he said. “It conditioned me for this last year and made me able to play good this year, partially. It was kind of a motivator.”
Motivated in part by the past, Cross turned in a stellar senior season, scoring a Wesco North-leading 21 goals, dishing out 10 assists and collecting numerous accolades, including being named The Herald’s 2012 Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
Cross also was voted the Panthers’ MVP by his teammates. He helped lead Snohomish to an undefeated regular season. The Panthers’ season eventually ended with a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Bellarmine Preps in the Class 4A state playoffs.
“He (was voted) MVP by the team this year,” Snohomish coach Dan Pingrey said, “so that says something, because if he was a selfish guy, all about me and not about team, I don’t believe that would have occurred.”
As a senior, Cross tried to be a better role model than he experienced as a freshman and sophomore.
“I remember I was always picked on,” he said, “so I never played well because I was always (angry), so I didn’t feel like playing for them.”
In preparing for the 2012 season, Cross and the other team leaders chose to take a different approach with the underclassmen, including teammate John Magnus, who ended the season as the only freshman selected to the All-Wesco North first team. It would have been easy to pass down the taunts — Magnus happens to be short and skinny, but also supremely skilled — but Cross wanted to make a change.
“I felt if we were nicer with the underclassmen, they’d play better with us,” Cross said.
Pingrey said he’s been proud of Cross, but is quick to point out the growth of all the senior leaders on his team this spring. He describes the younger version of Cross as “all over the map” but said Cross matured — both physically and emotionally — as he aged.
“He’s bigger,” Pingrey said. “He’s much stronger. He’s still extremely quick. He’s grown as a player and he’s very confident. His change of pace is amazing.”
Cross was the No. 2 scorer on the team as a junior. “Ever since I started playing soccer, I’ve scored a lot of goals,” he said.
But setting up teammates wasn’t always part of his game.
“Now he’s learned how to break a player down or has the ability to be a teammate and give them assist balls when people are starting to focus on him,” Pingrey said. “In the past, it was all about him trying to score with his head down. Now he’s become a much more valuable player across the board and as a result, the most valuable player as seen by many people.”
Cross is more humble than many prolific goal scorers. He defers much of the attention to his teammates.
“My teammates help me score all the goals I get,” he said. “I can’t (take credit), it’s them too. I constantly get the ball during the game. I get good balls. Good through balls, good passes that I can most of the time get into goals.”
The good news for Cross is that the disappointing loss to Bellarmine Prep in the state playoffs wasn’t his last soccer game. He plans to play at Edmonds Community College next season.
Pingrey, who serves as an assistant coach for the NCAA Division II Seattle Pacific men’s soccer team in the fall, said the community-college level is not Cross’s ceiling.
“I think that Reilly was missed by a lot of coaches and that he’s really, really becoming a much more mature adult and a more mature soccer player,” the coach said. “Next year he will go out there and make a difference both on and off the pitch, and I think he can be very successful at the next level.”