An unexpected honor for senior Mason Bizjak
Some players expect All-Ohio honors.
Many more hope for them.
Aurora senior Mason Bizjak hadn't given it much thought prior to being named second team All-Ohio by the Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches Association.
"I was really shocked when my coach told me that I had received all-Ohio," Bizjak said. "I wasn't sure what awards I was going to get, but I was really happy when I heard it."
One could understand why Bizjak hadn't thought much about All-Ohio prior to 2020.
As a junior, Bizjak was still trying to snag a spot in the starting lineup.
As a senior, he was starting, but other questions lingered.
No one knew quite what to expect from the Greenmen, having lost not just their head coach of four years (Jason Bibza) but a Class of 2020 that included three all-district standouts in Alex Bibza, Ben Gavie and Hugo Krondorfer. So, there were no thoughts of All-Ohio honors as the 2020 season began. Bizjak and his teammates just hoped to prove the doubters wrong and show that Aurora was still a power to be reckoned with.
"(All-Ohio) didn’t even occur to me during the season or anything," Bizjak said. "I was just trying to have the best season (I could)."
He did that, notching 14 goals, 13 assists and 41 points for a 14-3-3 Greenmen team.
"He's just a very complete player," Aurora coach Ryan Conner said. "He's got very good touch, very good technical skills. He does everything well. His foot skills are good, he's an outstanding passer, he's got a cannon of a shot, he's got good touch, he brings the ball out of the air, he can play the ball out of the air, he's strong in the air, he's great on headers. I just think over time he's developed into a very complete soccer player and those are hard to find at the high school level."
Despite all that, the humble senior didn't expect much when it came to awards.
"I don’t think of myself first," Bizjak said. "I felt like multiple players on our team should have gotten it, like Zach Geier who had 20 some goals, maybe like Pedro who was an excellent center back for us, like I thought more players should have gotten it."
And yet he had to concede that second team All-Ohio had a nice ring to it.
"I was very happy with the season," Bizjak said. "I worked very hard this year to get the outcome. We pushed each other in practice. It is nice to get rewarded."
On one hand, Bizjak earning All-Ohio honors should come as no surprise at all.
He started playing soccer at an early age, when he was roughly five years old.
His older brother, Cooper, plays for John Carroll, and, before he made the journey from Aurora to University Heights, was first team all-league and all-district.
But Mason was still battling for a spot in the starting lineup as his junior year began.
"I wasn’t going to even really play that much and the one kid showed up late and they put me at center back instead of him," Bizjak said. "So that was how I started off there. I wasn’t even going to start junior year."
An early hat trick against Geneva pushed Bizjak from center back to forward. Just like that, he had a new position, but Bizjak mixed myriad skill sets, shifting to attacking center mid at times as a senior. He was even set to return to center back if, say, Aurora was trying to hold onto a 1-0 lead late in a postseason game.
"That versatility is rare," Conner said. "Literally, I could play that kid anywhere. He could have been an All-Ohio center back, he's an All-Ohio attacking player, whether it's defense, offense, you could put him at goalie, I think he would have been an All-Ohio goalie. He's a very, very good overall athlete, so obviously that helps, but then, he's a competitor and he's smart and he makes good choices on the field."
In addition to his position versatility, Bizjak brought another unusual gift, a howitzer of an arm that made him deadly on throw-ins.
"One day, me and my brother went up to the field and we were just messing around and trying to see who could throw the ball farther," Bizjak said. "We just figured (it) out from there."
Entering his senior season, Bizjak was a strong scorer with a powerful arm, but he wasn't necessarily sure he wanted to keep playing after high school.
Heck, he didn't even know who his new coach would be at that point, as Greenmen girls soccer coach Domenica McClintock helped the boys with conditioning work over the summer while they waited to hear who their new coach would be.
His new coach, Conner, changed his mind.
"Coach Conner really made me love soccer again senior year," Bizjak said. "In the beginning of the year, I wasn't really sure if I wanted to play college soccer, and then he talked to me about it and then convinced me."
His senior season must have convinced him as well.
"The group of guys, we were all family," Bizjak said. "Like we would hang out outside of practice. We were friends regardless of soccer. We had each other's backs, no matter what. Like even if soccer wasn't a thing, I would hang out with those guys."
His older brother pointed out that soccer would be a great way to make friends in college as well, so Bizjak is now looking to play college soccer.
He's just trying to figure out where.