Tony Cook Boys'' 2002 News-Gazette All-Area Soccer Player of the Year

Monticello Artistically speaking, the biggest milestone in Tony Cook''s soccer career wasn''t so exciting. Hitting the magic number was. Facing Effingham St. Anthony late in the season, the Monticello scoring machine took a crossing pass from Alex Moody, the goalie came out and Cook poked the ball with his right foot. Like it had done 99 times before, the ball found the back of the net for Cook''s 100th career high school goal. "Even though I didn''t particularly like the goal that it was, it was a good feeling," Cook said. "It was a weak goal. I just didn''t think it was a pretty goal. But I''ll always remember it." Mind you, Cook doesn''t rate all of his scores. After finishing his career with 112 of them, it''s hard to remember any other than his titanic tally against St. Anthony. For The News-Gazette''s 2002 All-Area Soccer Player of the Year, they all kind of run together. As the area''s most prolific scorer the past four years, you can understand why. "He''s the kind of player where you go, ''Is he still in high school?'' " Sages coach Lois Cryder said. "They all know his name. It''s been fun watching him." His senior campaign didn''t start out so fun because of a six-game disciplinary suspension, but Cook returned to score an area-high 30 goals in 15 games. With Cook and Moody back in action, Monticello went 11-2-2 and won its first regular season Okaw Valley Conference title before ending its season in the regional final against state-bound powerhouse Charleston. Along the way, Cook accounted for seven assists and finished with a school-record 31 of those as he earned coaches all-state honors. But scoring goals always was his specialty, and his final total ranks 16th in state history and No. 1 in the News-Gazette area (Danville''s Travis Schofield had 109 from 1989 to ''92). "If he got that ball up there, you just anticipate he was going to take that ball in and score," Cryder said. Cook led the area in scoring each of the past three years and was a key reason Monticello''s 6-year-old program went from eight victories its first two seasons to averaging 13 a season during his four years with the varsity. "Our freshman year we broke .500, and ever since then we kept going up," Cook said. Getting started Cook started in the Monticello recreational league not knowing if he ever would play soccer at the high school level. He picked up the sport competitively at age 8 with the Little Illini Soccer Club, and it stuck with him. "My uncles played soccer, and I just got into it then," Cook said. "I''ve grown attached to it, and I liked it more than any other sport." At the time, Cryder taught elementary school and hoped Cook would get his chance in high school. By the time Cook reached junior high, Monticello added the program and Cryder took over as head coach. "I had the opportunity of watching him come up," Cryder said. "When Tony was in elementary school, hopefully there would be an opportunity for him to play high school soccer. (Cook and Moody) always played club ball. It''s a team sport, but instantly when those boys entered high school, it took us to another level." Cryder''s first two teams had four wins apiece, but she knew what was coming. Cook scored 22 goals as a freshman to establish a school record he later broke twice, and the team improved to 9-11-1. At the end of that season, Cryder said "by the time he finishes his time at MHS, his will be a name that is known to all the soccer community in central Illinois." She was right as Cook followed up with an area-best 29 goals and 11 assists his sophomore year to earn the first of three straight all-sectional awards. "His freshman year, he was still kind of getting in there," Cryder said. "His sophomore year, we had 16 wins, and I think after that we got a lot of respect. By the end of that season, he was being man-marked. But we had Roth Colbert, who was a 20-goal scorer himself, so they didn''t have one guy to key in on." That changed the next year as Cook again led the area with 31 goals for a 14-5-3 squad. He saw constant marking and double- and triple-teaming at times. "It''s harder to get in there as the years go on," Cook said. Cook still thrived because of his "uncanny balance with the ball" and improved strength and speed for a 5-foot-6, 145-pound player, Cryder said. "I always look at the weather, and when we were playing Charleston in the regional they predicted rain for the regional championship," Cryder said. "I was praying it would because Tony can control the ball in that kind of stuff." Moody said Cook''s burst of speed and cutback ability have been the key to shaking defenders. Moody, one of the area''s top defenders, knows more than anyone after locking horns with Cook in practice most of four years. "If anybody can shut him down it''s me because I know all his moves and I''ve been playing with him since our Little Illini days," Moody said. "It''s tough because we both really go at it. "Finally, we just call it a draw because nobody''s going to win." Lasting impression When Cook and Moody and six other seniors from this year''s class came to the high school program, the trophy case was empty and wins were rare. When they left, the school had three Okaw Valley Conference tournament championships, a handful of postseason wins and a 52-28-7 overall record. "I think we''ve really helped a lot of the younger guys, and we''ve helped our town open up to soccer," Moody said. "We''re pretty much a football town. Now our soccer team has really improved, so I think people will notice that a lot. I think younger kids will start getting into it more, and their parents will see that." Cryder said it''s neat that the conference tournament trophy only says Monticello Sages on it. She believes Cook and the seniors'' lasting mark will be the growth of the program. "Hopefully, they''ve been able to establish some things," Cryder said. "I don''t think we''re going to drop back down to four wins a season. That was an awful lot of goals that man put in the net the last four years. But they helped develop the program. "When we walk on the field after this, teams will say, ''They lost those two guys, but they''ve been pretty tough.'' They''ve heard about us and know who we are now." Cook likely will play college ball next year, although he''s not sure where just yet. Cryder wouldn''t mind Cook playing close to home so area fans can keep watching him play. Either way, Cook will not forget his time at Monticello. "The program has come a long, long way," Cook said. "It''s been a lot of fun."

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