Story and photos by Kurt Johnson
SALT LAKE CITY – For the second straight year, the Woods Cross High girls soccer team was on the road for the quarterfinal round of the state playoffs, and for the second consecutive time, the Wildcats gave a Class 4A power team all it could handle before losing in a penalty kick shootout.
This time around, the opponent was Region 6 champion Skyline and after the two squads played a scoreless first 40 minutes, each found the net once in the second half. Following two scoreless extra periods, the Eagles connected on the sixth kick of the shootout after Skyline goalkeeper Myah Tatton saved the Wildcat’s sixth attempt to give the Eagles a 4-3 shootout victory and a trip to yet another state semifinal.
Woods Cross made some noise early in the game and in the 11th minute, the Wildcat forwards combined to create a great scoring chance. Haley Stafford made a run deep into the Skyline end of the pitch and then dumped a pass to Kennedy Yost in scoring territory in front of the goal.
The senior striker unleashed a rocket that was on frame, but it ricocheted off the crossbar and back into the field of play. From that point, the Eagles seemed to find themselves and did a nice job particularly in controlling the midfield the rest of the first half.
The field at Skyline is smaller than most and that creates an interesting dynamic when it comes to style of play. Both teams attempted to work the ball with passing in tight spaces, but often defenders gained possession and then banged the ball deep into the opposing end.
There as a lot of back and forth, but when there was an element of control, it was usually the Skyline midfield who provided it, led by seniors Bella Sorenson and Alletse Soto. Woods Cross often found itself leaving a lot of space for the Eagles in that part of the field as the Wildcats midfielders got caught forward aiding in an attempt to create scoring chances.
In the 35th minute, high-scoring Skyline forward Holly Daugirda freed herself with a touch to the middle of the penalty area. It was one of the few good looks she got in the opening half and she cracked a shot on goal that was turned aside by Woods Cross keeper Rachel Noel.
After the scoreless first half, the Wildcats adjusted somewhat defensively in an attempt to close down the open space between the back line and the midfield. The tactic worked to tighten up the formation, but cost Woods Cross a goal in the 48th minute.
With the Wildcat defenders up at the center line, Sorensen won a ball about 10 yards back on the Eagles end of the pitch and sent a well-touched pass over the top into the Woods Cross end for Daugirda. The speedy striker ran onto the ball, got a clean touch to put herself in position and then buried her shot just inside the far post for the match’s first score.
Four minutes later, Daugirda made her own run to create a scoring opportunity for Olivia Gardner, but a Woods Cross defender cleared that attempt off the goal line to keep the score at 1-1. Most of the second half featured Eagle defenders man-marking Stafford and Yost up top, a strategy that seemed to frustrate the duo. Caroline Hyland and Sofi Papastamos took turns with Stafford, while center back Maddie Gill stayed with Yost. In particular, that matchup was problematic for Woods Cross as Gill’s height bothered the forward.
Skyline also kept a sweeper, Brie Goddard, deep to clean out any balls the Wildcats sent into the scoring area. That, combined with the fact that the Eagles won seemingly every ball in the air, gave this contest the look of a 1-0 win for Skyline.
Then, a breakdown in the defense that had been working so well, provided the opening Woods Cross needed, and Stafford made the most of it. It came in the 72nd minute, as sophomore midfielder Olivia Barton won possession just across the midfield line and carried the ball forward before sending it towards the goal.
As the ball bounced through about 12 yards out, with Tatton coming off her line to make a play, Stafford raced to a position between Gill and the ball, extended her foot and got a touch that pushed it beyond Tatton’s reach and beyond into the back of the net. The equalizing goal brought the energy back to the Wildcat sidelines, but they almost did not get to extra time.
Daugirda turned on the speed for another deep attack in the 79th minute, creating a corner kick that was nearly finished by Skyline. The shot was wide, however, and the teams went to overtime level at 1-1.
Skyline controlled much of the possession during both 10-minute extra periods, but could not find the back of the net. The Eagles had the best chances to end the game with a golden goal, with one great look in each period.
In the ninth minute of the first overtime, Daugirda set up her high-scoring running mate, Emma Heyn, for a one-on-one with the goalie, but Noel came off her line to shut down the shot attempt. Heyn returned the favor in the third minute of the second overtime, but Noel’s aggressive forced Daugirda’s shot to go just wide.
With the 1-1 score holding through 100 minutes of soccer, the teams headed to the shootout with tired legs and the pressure of postseason elimination.
The first two Woods Cross shots were no good, the first deflected by Tatton and rebounding off the crossbar and the second saved by the Skyline keeper. Stafford finally found the net as the third Wildcat shooter, but it did not look good for Woods Cross as the Eagles’ three senior captains – Daugirda, Heyn and Sorenson converted the first three attempts for the Eagles.
But Sam Campbell and Ale Guerrero both made their kicks for the Wildcats, giving Noel the chance to save back-to-back Skyline shots and leave the shootout tied at 3-3 after the initial five attempts each. Tatton pushed the sixth Woods Cross shot off the crossbar and out, giving Goddard the chance to win it on the sixty Eagle kick.
The junior delivered, sending Skyline (16-1-1) to the state semifinal to face Wasatch (14-1-3), a 1-0 winner over Alta in its quarterfinal battle. The loss ends the season for Woods Cross (12-4-3) in the same round it finished a year ago with a loss to eventual state champion Timpanogos.
The Timberwolves have won two straight state championships and three of the last four, all of them coming courtesy title-game wins over Skyline, and Timpanogos, which finished third in Region 7 this year, is back in the semifinals once again. A 2-0 win over East puts the Timberwolves into the other semifinal against Box Elder, which upset Timpview in a penalty-kick shootout.