By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Dave Argyle (DBA Photography) & Kurt Johnson
A year ago, the Davis High girls soccer team went into the state tournament as the underdog, the team chasing unbeaten Lone Peak in pursuit of a state championship. After ending the Knights’ pursuit of perfection, the Darts are now the team looking to finish off a campaign with zeroes in the loss and ties columns.
Head coach Souli Phongsavath would prefer last year’s situation to this one, in terms of expectations, but he knew 12 months ago that was not going to happen with this team.
“It’s difficult here at Davis High because every team we play, we get their best,” Phongsavath said. “Regardless of our record this year, it was always that way with just being Davis High, in other sports and with the name that we have. I would much prefer to be under the radar, but that wasn’t going to happen this year. With the girls we were returning and our record the way it was, we’re not at all going to be an underdog and it’s hard to even manufacture a scenario where we are the underdog.”
His players prefer to use the record to drive them to play better, to justify the recognition.
“I think it’s good to have confidence, to be the team that’s expected,” said junior midfielder Mikayla Colohan. “You just need to handle the pressure the right way.”
“It’s like fuel, something to play for,” said senior defender Mia Stoddard. “It motivates you because you don’t want to let your school down, let your teammates down.”
Scoring in Bunches
Davis forwards, including Ireland Dunn and Olivia Wade, get a lot of attention because this is a prolific team offensively. The Darts entered the postseason having scored 100 goals in compiling that 16-0 record, so the recognition is certainly justified.
“We’ve had teams that were almost as talented and could knock the ball around, but this year, we have a plethora of girls that can finish and are clinical in front of the net,” Phongsavath said. “You see that with our goal scorers. We have four or five that are double-digit goal scorers this year and it’s great to have because if somebody’s not on, we have someone else to come in and get it done.”
Dunn remains one of the state’s elite scorers. She scored the game-winner in last year’s state semifinal against Brighton in the final seconds, and knocked in the overtime goal against American Fork that allowed the Darts to survive this year’s quarterfinal scare.
Phongsavath made a move this season that has helped the team’s scoring punch, switching sophomore Olivia Wade from her customary midfield position to a spot up top. Wade also benefits from her experience with the U-17 U.S. women’s national team, a duty that had her absent from the first week of tournament play this year because she was training with the national team in California.
“I think it’s just helped her out with her confidence a little bit,” Phongsavath said. “She can know that she’s one of the best players in the country. She’s played against the best and then when she comes here, you can see…we’ve relied on her this year to score. We moved her from the midfield to the center forward to be more engaged on the attack, so I think that has helped her confidence a lot being on the national team and seeing the best forwards in the country, bar none, and drawing from that.”
Starts in Midfield
The ability to get players in position to score goals is largely a function of outstanding leadership from the midfield, and that starts with Colohan.
“(She is) 100 percent without a doubt (the leader in the midfield),” Phongsavath said. “She is the point guard on this team. There’s not one player that I’ve ever coached that is as good at distributing as she is. She can feed you every which way possible. She loves to get people involved. I think she would rather have a great assist than a great goal.”
Colohan agrees with that assessment from her coach in discussing the things that she enjoys most. She loves a good pass.
“I’m content with that (setting things up),” she said. “I like to score, I’ll do everything I can. To me, it’s not who scores or that I’m the one scoring, it’s what we’re doing as a team. If I get an assist to win a game or if I score to win a game, I’ll take either one.”
Phongsavath points to a win over Viewmont in the final week of the regular season as an example of what he has come to expect from Colohan.
“The assist she had against Viewmont was the best pass I’ve ever seen her make,” Phongsavath said. “None of us were looking at that run, we were looking at Ireland out wide, to have her take it in, but she saw that run (by Olivia Wade). I don’t think Olivia had to break stride one bit, it was a perfect pass.
“Throughout the years, I’ve coached her since she was about 10 or so, we’ve worked on the different ways she can distribute – over the top, being a little creative with the little flick, the through-ball she’s always had and always sees – so that’s what I think her growth as a player is. She can beat you any way possible, with a pass and she’s scored great goals from 25 yards out, so she’s got that too.”
Senior Back Line
The problem Davis opponents face, however, is that the back line is just as prolific. The Darts have also navigated that schedule while yielding just seven goals to their opponents.
“Speaking as a midfielder, they (the Davis defenders) don’t get nearly the credit, maybe because of stats, but we wouldn’t be where we are without this defense,” Colohan said. “We give up very few goals every single game and it’s because of them. They keep us in every game.”
The defenders, however, are quick to deflect credit, recognizing the role of the entire team in keeping teams from finding the net.
“I feel like the attack really helps us (defenders) a lot because they keep the ball,” said senior defender Jamie Alvarez. “We have our big moments where we have to save us, but I feel like our attack keeps it a lot so that really helps us in the back as well.”
Phongsavath looks at his defenders as the place it all begins for this team. He refers to them as a “senior back” line, and notes that most of these players have been starters since their freshman season.
“They’re a very skilled and technical back line,” Phongsavath said. “I have to tell them sometimes to kick the ball and play long every now and again because they just won’t do it. They want to build out of the back every time and play a really attractive brand of soccer. That’s where everything starts for us, their confidence back there. That experience, especially from the state championship will hopefully help us going forward.”
That close call in the 3-2 win over Viewmont in the team’s final week may have been just the thing Davis needs to prepare it for the postseason run.
“They got a PK and we got an own-goal too, which, those happen, but I think it tested us and it really was a team moment when we got together and proved to everyone that we’re the team that stats or whatever show,” Colohan said. “We can win difficult games and be the best team in the state and ranked nationally, and all that.
“It was kind of a moment when we were tied and we had to fight,” Stoddard added. “It just hadn’t happened like that before. We needed to show everyone that we deserved it, and we needed to fight for it.”
“We gave them those goals and it was all about how we responded to our mistakes that really tested us,” Alvarez said.
Anything Can Happen
Phongsavath believes the games from the final week of the season, and now the tough quarterfinal result against American Fork do a lot to prepare his team as it tries to mound the final hurdles on its way to a hopeful repeat state title.
“We had some adversity with the Viewmont game, we missed a penalty kick, gave up a penalty kick and scored on ourselves and we still ended up winning the game, which was great,” Phongsavath said. “I thought it was awesome for us to go through that right before the playoffs, not playing maybe at our best and having those unfortunate things happen to them. The Layton game was pretty emotional because it was senior night and we came out and played probably one of the best games we’ve played all year.”
His players also seem to understand the benefits of tight games, though they’d prefer to avoid them if at all possible.
“I think being tested is a good thing, especially when we go through games when we have adversity, it’s good to have games like that to let us know that we can’t walk through games,” Colohan said. “I think it brings us together when we play harder teams. I think it helps us in the long run to be tested like that.”
More than anything, the Darts know that there are no guarantees in soccer. A year ago, they knocked off a previously unbeaten Lone Peak team to win the state championship. Now, it’s their turn to face the pressure to complete the task at hand.
“Soccer is unlike any other sport in that you have to finish or you will not win,” Phongsavath said. “You can dominate in football and basketball and out-shoot them and most of the time you’re going to win. We have to finish and we have finished. With Kayla and the other midfielders, we create plenty of opportunities to score. If we don’t put those in the back of the net, then when the games are tight, it will let teams hang around and you never know what will happen in a close game.”
The players believe their closeness and friendship is the biggest key to their success. They see themselves as a family and they don’t want to let each other down.
“We push each other as teammates,” Colohan said. “We’re all best friends. Even me being a junior, I’ll do anything for them. They’ve been my best friends forever and they still are, and I just want them to go out on top, too.”
Friday practices are a memorable part of life as a Davis High soccer player and all three players point to “Fun Friday” as something they will never forget. Now, they’re hoping for one more fun Friday, and they’d like it to come Oct. 23 at Rio Tinto Stadium.