HAVERHILL — Alex Jimenez always infuriated Juan Santacruz.
It all was part of a learning experience for Santacruz, a talented senior stopper at Haverhill High.
"He would embarrass me, and I would always get so mad," Santacruz said. "Then, I would figure out how he would do those tricks (with the soccer ball).
"Every time we would play, I would study him. See how he does those tricks and see how he moves. I would look at his feet, look at the ball. See what he does."
Santacruz is a tri-captain but he nearly gave up soccer early on.
"I would have probably never played high school level or even middle school level because I wasn't the greatest soccer player," Santacruz said. "But he (Jimenez) spent time with me and taught me footwork and everything else."
The two, who earned the inseparable superlative in their eighth grade class, met in PAL soccer in first grade and have been best friends since.
They hope to play together at UMass Boston. First they hope to lead the Brown and Gold into the state tourney.
After a slow start (0-5-1), the Hillies have won six of their last eight games.
Santacruz, who switched from midfield to defense this year, moved to the United States from Mexico and he was held back in the first grade because he didn't speak strong enough English.
"I'm two years older than him but back then I used to look up to him because I thought he was an amazing soccer player and I just wanted to be just like him," said Santacruz, who was born in the United States. "Every day we would come here (to Jimenez's house) and we would practice ... or we'd just go somewhere and practice until I got better."
Jimenez, who leads the Hillies with five goals, said, "Back in the day we used to stand out here for hours (playing) and record ourselves and put it on YouTube."
Santacruz added: "We'll be outside for hours either if it's hot, cold, nice, snowing, raining — we'll still play."
Santacruz remembers when they first met.
"I just saw him kicking a soccer ball by himself and I just went up to him and I started shooting at him and he started shooting at me and I think from there on, that's when everything happened," Santacruz said.
Santacruz said that Jimenez also introduced him to indoor and club leagues.
"If I never met him or ever even talked to him or ever played with him and improved my skills, I wouldn't be here today because he brought me from an in-town league into a club team," Santacruz said. The two aren't just about soccer.
"Me and Juan are great cooks," Jimenez said. "Great cooks!"
"Excellent cooks," Santacruz interjected.
"We just go to the supermarket and buy lots of meat," Jimenez said. "Buy some beans, and we go back to his house and grill some rice, make some beans and we have some feasts. We just feast ... It's pretty much soccer and food for us."
Jimenez's parents are from Colombia so Jimenez cheers on Colombia while Santacruz's favorite team is Mexico.
"I used to go there and eat, eat, eat," Jimenez said.
Mother knows best
PMA junior Brooke Huberdeau enjoys having her mother, Kristin Huberdeau, as her coach.
"I love having her as a coach," Brooke said. "I've had her for years so it's really not that big of a change. She does a great job coaching the team. And she's just a great role model for all of us. This is her first year at PMA but she's been coaching me since I was about 4 all through the youth program."
She said her dad is very supportive, too.
"My dad is always on the sidelines cheering me on," she said.
Huberdeau, who lives in North Andover, has seven goals on the year.
GOALIE OF WEEK
Pelham is only 3-9-2, but sophomore Gina Grimes is having a terrific season.
She made a remarkable 32 saves in a 1-0 victory over Merrimack Valley last Wednesday.
Earlier in the year she had 28 saves in a 1-1 tie with Windham and 27 in a 2-0 victory over Pembroke.
DEFENDER OF THE WEEK
Senior Sean Furlong helped Andover beat Central Catholic 1-0 on Tuesday.
"He's just rock solid," Andover coach Jim Saalfrank said earlier this season. "He's playing balls out of the area, marking forwards and just being the go-to-guy on the defensive part of the field. He's excellent at free kicks."
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Haverhill goalie Jared Grazio stopped 15 shots in a 1-0 shutout over Dracut. Grazio has posted shutouts in his past two starts. Pentucket's Haley DesRosiers scored twice in a 2-0 win over North Reading. DesRosiers has six goals on the year.
Girls Fab Five
1. Central Catholic 7-1-2
2. Salem 12-2-1
3. Phillips 6-2-2
4. Georgetown 9-2-1
5. Londonderry 8-5-2
Honorable mention: Pinkerton 8-5-2, Andover 7-6-1, Methuen 7-6
Boys Fab Five
1. Pinkerton 13-2-1
2. Londonderry 11-3-1
3. North Andover 8-3-2
4. Andover 7-4-2
5. Pentucket 10-3-1
Honorable mention: Pelham 9-4-1