Luna becomes Generals’ leader

By Brad Fauber

QUICKSBURG — Juan Luna’s forced stay in his native Mexico during the 2011-12 school year was a dark time for the Stonewall Jackson senior.

Thousands of miles away from his family and friends back in the Shenandoah Valley, Luna could do nothing but wait while the process of obtaining his U.S. permanent residency card dragged on for eight long months, forcing Luna to miss what would have been his senior year of high school. To help pass the time, Luna joined a youth soccer academy run by Club Atlas.

What began as a nice distraction for Luna’s unfortunate situation quickly grew into arguably the best form of offseason training available to a high school athlete. Through Club Atlas — known throughout Mexico for having some of the best youth soccer academies in the country — Luna traveled Mexico while playing against some of the toughest competition in the country.

The experience quite literally changed Luna, and his evolution on the soccer field was one of the first things that stood out to Stonewall Jackson boys soccer coach Caleb Golladay when Luna returned to complete his senior year this past school year.

“The way he came back out of Mexico, he was fit, he lost weight and he was ready to play,” Golladay said. “All the tournaments he played down there, the teams he played with … just completely changed him, his style of play, everything. He’s faster, he touched the ball a lot better, his mindset to where he wanted to play the ball and how he wanted to play the ball completely changed.”

Luna — a four-year starter for Stonewall’s boys soccer program — was granted full athletic eligibility by the Virginia High School League prior to the start of the 2012-13 school year, and his return to the Generals keyed a memorable season for Stonewall Jackson.

Fueled by the determination to take full advantage of his second chance at a normal senior year, Luna drew upon what he learned in Mexico to put together one of the finest individual performances in the program’s history.

Luna, The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2013 Boys Soccer Player of the Year, finished the season with 34 goals and 31 assists, the latter of which broke Patrick Bain’s school record of 25 assists in a season, which Bain set in 2009. Luna’s outstanding postseason play, which included 18 goals and 16 assists in nine total games, led him to be named the Region B Player of the Year.

Luna will also leave Stonewall Jackson as the school’s all-time assists leader, amassing 56 in his career over four seasons.

Luna readily admits that he never set out to become the school’s all-time assists leader, especially not after spending all of his time playing forward for Club Atlas’ U17 team in Mexico. He said he came into his senior year at Stonewall ready to “score as many goals as I could,” but a move to midfield prior to the start of the season changed Luna’s mindset.

“Down there in Mexico they just teach you to be aggressive, pretty much greedy. I don’t like to be greedy. I hate being greedy,” Luna said “But that was the mentality that they taught me down there. Bringing it down here to the midfield, you’ve just got to relax and settle down. In the midfield you control the game, and if you control the game personally, then it’s just better.”

The move to the midfield position was one that Luna openly accepted from the moment Golladay informed him of the plan. After all, the move made sense for both Luna and the Generals, as it allowed Luna to use his size and power to his advantage while controlling the tempo of the game around him.

The physical nature of the midfield position fit right in with Luna’s playing style, who has always been an aggressive player on the pitch.

“I’ve always been physical, tough and rough. It doesn’t matter if there is a little kid in front of me, if they’re on the field I don’t care,” Luna said. “That’s how it is, you can’t have any sympathy for anybody out there.”

It was Luna’s physicality and ability to control the ball that Golladay credits for helping Stonewall Jackson advance past the first round of the Region B tournament for the first time since 2009.

Behind Luna’s leadership, the Generals captured their fifth straight Shenandoah District regular season and tournament titles, as well as the program’s first Region B championship. Stonewall Jackson also advanced to the Group A state championship match for just the second time in school history, where they fell to George Mason, 2-1.

In Golladay’s eyes, none of that would have happened without Luna.

“He took it into his hands and he changed how the game was going. Whether that was slowing it up or picking up the pace a little more, he changed the tempo,” Golladay said. “That’s the one big thing that I see from when he was a freshman playing with us until now, is his ability to completely change a game.”

Golladay, who currently plays college soccer for Division III Eastern Mennonite, said Luna could easily find success on the soccer field at the Division II level, although Luna has no plans to pursue soccer in college.

Luna, who was also a standout place kicker and punter for Stonewall Jackson’s football team, plans to attend James Madison University in the fall, where he hopes to walk on as a kicker for the Dukes.

“I feel blessed to be able to keep playing a sport, and definitely a sport that I love. I mean, I love soccer, but football is where it’s at,” Luna said. “That’s what’s going to get me somewhere.”

As for his soccer career, Luna didn’t rule out a return to Club Atlas somewhere down the road. But if the Group A state championship loss was indeed Luna’s final competitive soccer match, Luna can truly say that he has no regrets.

“It’ll always be there. I’ll always remember it for the rest of my life,” Luna said of the state championship loss, “but everything that we’ve done this season … all the achievements we’ve accomplished here, I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com