Story and photos by Kurt Johnson
It was the most unexpected of outcomes. Entering their regular season-ending match at second-place Salem Hills with a record of 12-0-3, having allowed just seven goals for the season, the last thing the Wasatch High girls soccer team could have expected was giving up three goals…in the first half.
It’s not that losing to the Skyhawks was that much of an upset, as the win was good enough to push Salem Hills into the top spot in Region 8 just ahead of the Wasps. It was the way Wasatch lost the game that was so highly unusual.
With an offense led by Ella Ballstaedt, the Wasps have the ability to score goals when needed, but this is a team that counts on the fact that its opponents struggle to find the back of the net at all. The 3-0 loss to Salem Hills sent Wasatch into the postseason having still allowed just 10 goals in 16 contests, with 10 shutouts mixed in.
How did the Wasps respond to the difficult loss?
The same way this team led by a dozen seniors faces everything in its path. Wasatch knocked off perennial Class 4A powerhouse Bonneville 1-0 in double-overtime to open the postseason and then went on the road to knock off Region 7 champion and tournament heavyweight Alta 1-0 in the quarterfinals.
There is strength all over the pitch for this team, but it starts between the posts, where senior goalkeeper Torri Bills provides the Wasps one of the state’s most athletic net minders. Bills stands just 5-foot-4, not great height for a goalie, but she makes up for it with amazing athletic ability.
“People ask me that a lot (about her height) because I’m really short, but it’s not (a disadvantage) because in a game I have adrenaline,” Bills said. “Sometimes I have no idea how I did it but it’s really never been an issue for me.”
Becoming a Keeper
The three-sport star started her soccer career at a very young age as a forward, but she eventually found a home in goal.
“I used to play forward, and there was one game I actually volunteered to play half of a game (in goal) and my coach just stuck me back there and left me there because I was good,” Bills said. “I was probably in fifth grade. Every now and again, I’d like to be on the other side and score, or maybe drop-kick it in.”
Wasatch is certainly happy she raised her hand that day. She has delivered 24 shutouts in her high school career, and counting those two playoff clean sheets this season, 12 of them have come this year.
Bills is credited with 175 saves during her senior season alone. That’s nearly 10 per game. She likes to be active back there, but she also feels that her defense provides a lot of strength in front of the net.
“I like to make 10 saves, but I do like when my defense helps,” Bills said. “I have a killer defense. I like action because I’m always thinking what I am going to do here, what am I going to do there. If I’m not getting action, I’m more worried that something’s going to happen.”
That, for Bills is the hardest part of playing a position that can often go long stretches without touching the ball.
“There was a game actually last year that we were beating Provo,” Bills recalls. “I wasn’t getting very many shots and I was thinking I’ve got to be focused because there’s going to be one shot, and there actually was one right at the end, and I had to hit it over. It’s just something that if you’re not focused, there could be a ball that comes from nowhere and you just miss it so you’ve got to be focused.
“I always pace back and forth. I can’t just stand. I’m moving with the game, moving with the ball. I can’t just stand there or I can’t focus.”
Three Sport Star
Much of Bills’ training that makes her a tremendous goalkeeper comes on the softball field, where she is a shortstop and a great one. She calls softball her first love, but she plays three sports at Wasatch, filling the time between soccer and softball seasons with basketball.
“We’ve kind of grown up playing sports,” Bills said. “My dad played for BYU, baseball and my mom played basketball at Snow (College). We’ve kind of just grown up playing and they love it. They support me 100 percent, and my siblings play. It’s been easier since they can help me.”
Bills believes that her involvement in all three sports help her to be a better athlete overall and the things she learns from each sport assist her performance in the other two.
“I think it helps my coordination and my thinking ability,” Bills said. “I just focus on whatever I’m playing at that time.”
Her reasons for enjoying each sport varies, but she loves them all.
“I just think softball is so fun, it’s so fun to play,” Bills said. “Basketball just makes me tired. I just like to run up and down and show my speed. Basketball’s more of a running kind of thing for me.”
On the hardwood, Bills is more defensive stalwart and playmaker than scorer, much like her work on the soccer field. On the diamond, however, she is both a dominative defensive presence at shortstop and one of the state’s premier hitters.
“I am known on my (softball) team for diving all the time,” Bills said. “I think that’s from soccer. You’ve got to make a sick play every now and then.”
When she’s making plays like that, Bills really enjoys the defensive side of softball, but when she’s got the bat going, which is most of the time, it’s on the softball field where we get to experience the Torri Bills offensive explosion.
As a junior, Bills hits .488 for the Wasps, with 40 hits and 40 runs scored. She had 12 doubles, five triples and six home runs, with 35 runs batted in.
“I hit like six home runs last year and, for being so small, I get a lot of praise for that, so I think that’s pretty cool,” Bills said.
Softball has also helped her mental game, and that pays off no matter which field she is playing on.
“I have learned, because I used to be a head case in softball, I would let it (a mistake) get to me,” Bills said. “I have learned how to shake it off and shut it out, move on to the next play and make it better than the last.”
Loving the Pressure
And what does she like most about soccer?
“It’s so much pressure and I love being under pressure because I do a lot better,” Bills said “I love playing keeper for me, it’s just intense. I always get these adrenaline rushes. It’s pretty sweet. There’s just been a few saves I’ve made that I have no idea in the world how I got them. I think those moments for me have been my Wow moments.”
When Bills describes the two things she thinks are most important in becoming great between the posts, she could easily be describing the skills needed to be a great defensive shortstop.
“There would be two things, I would think,” Bills said. “It’d be being smart, like when to come out and stuff and just having the hands. You’ve got to be able catch because if you can’t catch, you’re going to get scored on.”
While charging the ball is more common on the softball diamond, there are times in a 1-v-1 when Bills the goalkeeper has to come out hard to try to shut down a scoring opportunity.
“I just…I’ve got to come out and I take it to the stomach or the face, I’ve got to take it,” Bills said. “I’m ready for it.”
At least, she says, that contact doesn’t hurt as much as when you get hit by a bad hop on the infield or take one on the chin when charging a ground ball.
“They’re different because I feel like the ball hurts worse when it’s a softball,” Bills said. “It’s different because you have to think more when you’re playing soccer because you can get juked by a girl dribbling it, but a softball, it’s straight. It’s just how it’s coming at you.”
The Road to Rio (Tinto)
It doesn’t get any easier from here for Bills and her teammates, particularly the back line. The Wasps face Skyline in the semifinal round and the Eagles are also a team with some seniors looking to finish strong. Two of them (Holly Daugirda and Emma Heyn) are 20+ goal scorers this season. That will offer a stiff challenge for Bills as Wasatch looks to reach its ultimate destination this season.
“We have 12 seniors and we’ve all been playing together for so long and we all just have that chemistry together,” Bills said. “I just think we have that determination to win. It’s just way different. We take it one game at a time. We always say, “Road to Rio,” that’s our motto, but taking it one game at a time for us is how we’ve been progressing. If we’re thinking ahead then we’re stressing it and we’re not thinking about the now, and we need to focus on one game at a time to get there, so that’s our key.”