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Bernie Conley named Beacon-News Soccer Player of the Year

Hinckley-Big Rock’s Bernie Conley celebrates one his 132 career goals. | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-times Media

Hinckley-Big Rock’s Bernie Conley celebrates one of his 132 career goals. | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-times Media

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Updated: December 14, 2012 6:08AM

Unlike basketball or football where height or bulk matters more, soccer is still often thought of as any man’s game.

Stamina, speed and savvy instincts can negate shortcomings. Hence the idea behind overlooking one numerical designation (1A) for more noticeable numbers: 98, 37 and 24.

Regardless of size, some schools would like to have team totals equal to the points, goals and assists of Hinckley-Big Rock’s Bernie Conley — The Beacon-News 2012 Player of the Year.

Beyond the debate over quality of opposition and level of play, the fact is Conley’s stats for the past year are all more than double that of the top player from the largest schools. As often happens when there is no favorite — or theoretical favorites split the votes — an underdog emerges.

“It’s a hard debate because the assumption is the larger programs operate at an elite level, but (at the sectional meeting of coaches) most everyone agreed that he could play on any one of their teams,” H-BR coach Paul Taeuber said. “It is ‘Hoosier-esque’ in that the size of the goal is the same for every level and the number of times he scored or assisted adds up to an impressive resume.”

The IHSSCA’s 60-member All-State squad includes Conley — one of three players from Class 1A schools, the smallest of which is Hinckley-Big Rock.

Of course, the school already had a “little giant” reputation from back in 1979 when all of the state’s soccer programs competed in one tournament. That’s when the Royals first reached the Final Four, but were beaten by a Granite City South powerhouse that would win the second of three consecutive state titles.

In leading H-BR to a third-place finish and a 21-4 record in 2012, Conley averaged 1.48 goals per match, and it was a continuation of what he’d been doing for the Royals in three previous seasons.

That’s why he departs Hinckley-Big Rock as the school’s No. 3 all-time goal scorer with 132 career tallies combined with 53 assists for an eye-popping 317 points. After his initial three seasons, he became a marked man by every opponent for 2012. However, he responded by nearly doubling his assists (24 compared to 29 from 2009-2011).

“Another indication of how he’s improved is that at one point, when it came to his game, our attack almost began and ended with him,” Taeuber said. “But this year he really improved his field vision and learned now and when to make the correct pass. And unlike the past, he didn’t try to do too much with the ball.

“Even with his higher assist total, the stats don’t reflect how many times scores originated from his play. In other words, he often had the second to last pass. Maybe we should have given more combination assists, but we’re not big on those.”

Despite twice being a unanimous All-Little Ten Conference selection, Conley’s ego stands in contrast to his scoring success.

“It’s always great to get honors, but the greatest accomplishment is the (third-place) trophy we brought back to the school,” Conley said. “The previous tournament ones (Stillman Valley, a trio of regionals) are really nice, but that one stands out.

“In that same respect, I know I tried my hardest and worked as much as possible, but I couldn’t get anything without my teammates, especially the other seniors, and coach Taeuber.”

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