Story and photos by Kurt Johnson
Two consecutive seasons of losing that final game on Utah high school soccer’s biggest stage have created a heightened sense of anticipation for the 2015 state tournament around the Skyline High girls soccer team. It is particularly important for the seniors.
“I think the ups and the downs, losing state twice…getting second…have given me personally a drive like no other to win because we’ve been there and been close so many times,” said senior striker Emma Heyn.
“We’re seniors and I want to leave with a bang,” added the Eagles other high-scoring forward, senior Holly Daugirda. “We’ve been so close and I feel we should leave with the trophy. I never want to feel the way I did when we lose at state. I remember last year, when we lost, I just fell to my knees and cried.
“It is one of the most awful feelings, so that gives me the drive because I want to know what it feels like to win. I don’t ever want to feel that ever again. It’s miserable. Obviously you get past it, but it’s still in the back of your mind, so I want to beat what happened because I don’t want to feel that again. I want to succeed.”
Midfielder Bella Sorensen agrees with her teammates, and like them, she’s looking forward to a chance to get back to Rio Tinto Stadium to take advantage of prior experiences there.
“It hits you hard when that happens,” Sorensen said. “I want to fall on my knees and cry for the good reason because I am that emotional person that’s going to cry when we do win it. The first time we played there, the field was a huge anxiety for me, maybe because as a center mid I had to cover a huge field all the sudden. Last year, the field felt a ton smaller, so I’m excited for this year because now I’ve got this entire space I can use.”
Their head coach, Yamil Castillo, also hopes to turn past experience into ultimate success this year. He knows previous teams have been so close, with last year’s club losing to Timpanogos in a penalty-kick shootout.
“We’re not as nervous as we used to be,” Castillo said. “It’s not like anybody’s going to put out the red carpet for us. We still feel the butterflies, but it’s not as much as if we were going there for the first time. I remember my first run, I couldn’t sleep, I had butterflies, but now I’m more calm, knowing we’ve been there and done that. We’ve lost three games, 1-0, 1-0 and then last year it went to PKs. I know we’re closer. Maybe this is the year.”
Skyline entered this year’s state tournament having scored 86 goals this year, while yielding just 11. It’s a combination of offense firepower and defensive skill that is hard to beat. While most of the team’s games have not been all that close, a two-game stretch in the middle of region play is memorable of these senior leaders, who feel it prepares them for state tournament play.
“I feel like our loss to Murray and our tie with Olympus were kind of a pick-me-up,” Daugirda said.
“They were an eye-opener,” Heyn added. “It woke us up and it was humbling. It made us realize just how much work we need to put in to make it there. It’s not going to be an easy ride just because we were ranked No. 1. We have to put the work in and want it.”
Everyone associated with the Skyline soccer program seems to agree that there’s something different about this team, something that brings this group together.
“They are playing for each other, they trust each other and I do believe they want it more,” Castillo said. “There was a little bit of distraction last year with the previous class about who was going to be the captain, but this group of players, they’re hungry. Then, they saw the boys take state two years in a row and they said, ‘What about us?’ I think they’re ready. I think they want to do it.”
“I just think that our team this year, our chemistry and our relationships are so much stronger than years past,” Heyn said. “On the field you can see that as well as off the field. Our relationships are much better than they have been.”
“Also there’s a different energy this year,” Daugirda added. “You can feel something different that we haven’t had. There’s a momentum that we feel as we play on the field and I think that’s what’s going to help us as well.”
With a deep and talented tournament field in Class 4A, Sorensen sees something in this group of Eagles that she really likes.
“It’s trust,” Sorensen said. “We don’t have to double up on a player because we know (our teammate) they’re going to win it. We still come up behind them just in case, but it’s about trust. It’s trusting that if she needs someone to pass back to, I’m there. It’s trusting that when I send a ball forward, knowing that Emma’s right where she’s supposed to be.”
While it might not have seemed that way heading into the final week of the regular season, Castillo believes there may have been some growth that came from Daugirda’s absence for the final two regular-season contests. The senior was training with the national team.
“Holly was gone last week when she went to play with the U.S. under-19 national team and I was pretty concerned what was going to happen with the team,” Castillo said. “Emma really took the team over, on her shoulders and scored three or four goals. Now, with Holly back, I think it brings a higher level of confidence with the rest of the team. Emma has the smell for it. She knows where Holly’s going to go, and they both just help each other. It’s an amazing duo.
“I think, even though they’re the same forwards, Holly and Emma have that extra touch, the extra nudge from last year. They know each other more than a year ago. I think that’s the difference, in finishing up.”
Skyline opponents focus a ton of attention on Daugirda and Heyn, particularly in postseason games. It makes sense when you look at the high percentage of Eagle goals scored by the pair.
“As the games go on, especially through playoffs, we start getting man-marked, we start getting double-teamed,” Daugirda said. “It’s the perfect opportunity for players that aren’t scoring to step up because we are taken out.”
And it falls to Sorensen and the Skyline midfield to navigate the options.
“You see them get man-marked and then we’ve got the wings that come up and make plays and we can start hitting those plays,” Sorensen said. “We know these guys are going to score on other teams, it’s super easy, but once they start getting man-marked, you’ve got those other girls that start filling in and making those runs.”
While the strikers get the press, Skyline’s defense was remade this season, and it has a very different look from the back line of a year ago.
“I think our defense has speed on their side this year,” Heyn said. “We’re not as big, but we’re still physical and we have that speed component, so I think that we’re almost stronger this year than we were last year.”
Sorensen also has seen a difference when it comes to “50/50” balls.
“I think we’re winning balls first this year, where last year we’d wait for them get it and then we can hit them off, but this year, we’re going to step in front of the ball and win it, and then get it back up to us,” Sorensen said.
Skyline needed a shootout to survive the quarterfinal round against Woods Cross. The comfort of the home field may have played a role in that win, at least Castillo hopes it does. The win made it seven straight seasons his team has made it to the semifinals after hosting two playoff games.
“The reason I push hard to win region is…this is my sixth year as the coach here at Skyline and I have hosted the playoffs until the quarterfinals every year, and we move on,” Castillo said. “All six years, we went to the semifinals. Playing at home gives you an advantage. You know your field, you’re comfortable on your field.”
The Rio Tinto Experience
The Eagles hope it will be them stepping out on the field at Rio Tinto Oct. 23, but whoever it is, Daugirda, who will play collegiately at the University of Utah, knows what it’s like to be on that pitch.
“It’s intimidating, but it also gives you confidence, Daugirda said. “I’m here for a reason, I deserve to play on this field.”
“There’s pressure stepping on and you can definitely feel that pressure, but once they call your name, you just know you play your game,” Heyn added. “It’s so fun that the pressure goes away because you’re there with your teammates, it’s so fun.”