Story and photos by Kurt Johnson
In a girls soccer season filled with big scoring by some of the state’s top teams, defense was a big part of the story when the 4A and 5A semifinals went off Tuesday at Juan Diego High School. Of course, when you get down to just the best teams and they’re playing in pressure situations, that’s often what you get.
After a day of four competitive games that did not always go as expected, there are a few things that stand out.
It’s always such a tough way to end a championship sporting event, but two of Tuesday’s games – the first one and the last one – ended in penalty-kick shootouts after 100 minutes of soccer.
Two-time defending 4A state champion Timpanogos was pretty much outplayed in terms of ball possession for the first 65 minutes of its game with Box Elder as the Bees were able to exert heavy pressure targeting forwards Paige Stevens and Kambri Curtis, but then everything changed.
The Timberwolves, who to that point had relied heavily on a number of spectacular saves from goalkeeper Carly Nelson, took control of the scoreless contest. Timpanogos put heavy pressure on the Bees’ goal over the final 15 minutes of regulation and continued to do so during the two overtime periods, but in the end, neither team found the back of the net.
The 0-0 game went to a shootout and that’s not a place you want to be against the Timberwolves, who won the state title a year ago on a run that included shootout wins over Woods Cross in the quarterfinal and Skyline in the title game. This shootout went nine rounds and after Jadie Christensen buried her shot in the corner of the net, Box Elder’s Alyse Johnson was unable to match, leaving Timpanogos as a 6-5 winner on penalty kicks.
As she did in the shootout wins a year ago, Nelson came up big between the posts for the Timberwolves, saving two shots. The senior also was one of the kickers for Timpanogos and she scored on her chance.
The final game of the night also went to a shootout as Weber advanced past Lone Peak. The Knights controlled possession during the first half, but never really got off a good shot attempt.
In fact, the best scoring opportunity in the first 40 minutes came against the run of play, and after a great cross, the Warriors hit the post. The second half was very much the opposite of the first, with Weber controlling much of the possession, except for the opening moments, when Lone Peak scored one minute into the half on a great passing combination that ended with a Breesa Nawahine finish.
That was the first goal of the contest, but two minutes later Payton Roylance answered for Weber, corralling a rebound after a corner kick and blasting a left-footed shot off the underside of the cross bar and into the goal from about 15 yards out. Those were the only two goals in regulation and the teams played two scoreless extra periods before heading to their own shootout.
Tired legs (and some nice saves by Weber keeper Hannah Johnson and Knight goalie Brianne Allen) were the order of the day during the kicks, and through the first four rounds, each team had managed just one score. After Cassidy McCormick buried kick No. 5 in the back of the net for the Warriors, Cameron Tucker answered for Lone Peak and the teams moved on to the single kicks to decide the winner.
Hannah Wheelwright scored her chance for Weber and then Johnson made the save on the final Lone Peak attempt to deliver the 3-2 shootout win to the No. 2 seed from Region 1.
2) 4A Rematch
Just as they have each of the past two seasons (and three times in the past four years) Timpanogos and Skyline are set to meet in the 4A state title game. Each of the prior contests have been won by the Timberwolves, leaving Skyline looking for a way to reverse the trend.
This time around, the Eagles were expected to be here, having dominated all season long and compiled a 17-1-1 record. Timpanogos, on the other hand, finished third in its own region, and comes to the title game with a 9-5-3 mark.
This, however, is a winning program that knows what it takes when the bright lights come on. Before the postseason even started, Skyline coach Yamil Castillo said of the Timberwolves – “You don’t count out the champions until someone knocks them out.” So far, that hasn’t happened this year either.
Timpanogos enters the finale on an 11-game postseason winning streak. The last team to beat the Timberwolves in the postseason? You guessed it – Skyline knocked Timpanogos out 1-0 in a quarterfinal matchup in 2012.
3) Explosive offense
Eight teams took to the pitch at Juan Diego Catholic High Tuesday, and exactly one of them scored more than one goal. Skyline faced a Wasatch team that had allowed just 10 goals all season and had 12 shutouts in 18 games, but once the Eagles solved the Wasps, they buried three shots for a 3-0 win.
In this semifinal round, that qualifies as an explosive offense. Those three scores equal the total number of goals scored by the other seven semifinal teams combined in the run of play. Wasatch kept Skyline from scoring in the first half, mostly by dropping extra defenders to deal with the Eagles’ two 20+ goal scorers – Holly Daugirda and Emma Heyn.
In the meantime, Skyline was able to push its defenders higher and higher as the Wasps’ strongest striker Ella Ballstaedt came further and further back to gather the ball and start her runs. It felt all along like it was just a matter of time, and in the 47th minute, the Eagles broke through.
Daugirda pushed a ball through to Heyn, who used a touch to get the ball in shooting position before taking it top shelf with the left foot for the game’s first goal. That tally would have stood up, but it didn’t have to as the Eagles three senior captains connected in the 75th minute.
Bella Sorensen delivered a well-placed through ball to Daugirda as Skyline countered a Wasatch run. The striker sent a pass across to Heyn on her way to goal.
The pass slipped past, but Heyn retrieved it and turned back inside for another shot over the head of Wasp goalkeeper Torri Bills to double the advantage. For good measure, Daugirda turned a Bergen Meyer feed into an insurance goal, finishing a 1-v-1 with Bills, to set the final score at 3-0.
4) Quick strike & then survival
That Davis scored a goal in the game’s second minute was hardly a surprise. The Darts have been known for fast starts all year long. This time, however, what played out after that quick strike was not like anything Davis expected, perhaps because its opponent was Region 1 champion Fremont, which came into the match 16-0-2.
The goal was an impressive combo as junior midfielder Kayla Colohan connected with sophomore center forward Olivia Wade, who slotted her shot into the netting for the early 1-0 advantage.
From that point forward, it seemed nothing the Darts tried to smooth out their offense worked. They had a hard time putting passes together and instead leaned on a strong defensive effort from Haylee Cacciacarne, Mia Stoddard, Madison Carter and Jamie Alvarez to carry the day. Most impressive was the play of sophomore keeper Kendyl Baker.
On numerous occasions, Baker was forced to come out hard to shut down Fremont attackers and take away scoring chances. As the contest progressed, the Silver Wolves gained confidence and mounted run after run at the Davis back line, but they were never able to solve Baker.
It wasn’t the kind of offensive effort the Darts are used to, but this is the postseason and it’s a whole new game. For Davis, that early Wade goal allowed it to survive and advance.
The Davis defense was outstanding, but great defense was really the common thread that ran through all four games. Timpanogos’ back line was under constant attack for the first 65 minutes, but Nelson in goal, with Olivia Burnett and company in front of her, stood up to some terrific playmaking by a surprising Box Elder squad.
Weber made some mistakes in the back early against Lone Peak, but Alyssa Ulugalu and her back line mates never seemed to panic. That was the key to keeping the Warriors around to have the chance to win in the shootout.
In that same game, there was the one breakdown on the set play, but the Knights’ defense was also very good, with Lily Franks, Ashley Lyons and Haylee McCune all playing extremely well.
Skyline had the big offense late, but its defense kept Wasatch from getting anything going at all, led by Maddie Gill and Sofi Papastamos.
Nicole Allen and the Fremont back line may have had the toughest job of all, dealing with all of that Davis scoring, and except for the early surprise, the Silver Wolves made life difficult for the Darts.
4A Final Matchup
Skyline (17-1-1) and Timpanogos (9-5-3) are as familiar with each other as two programs can be. Many of the faces have changed, but in addition to all of those postseason matchups, the two teams were in the same region a year ago. There won’t be many surprises Friday afternoon at Rio Tinto.
That said, the combination of Sorensen and those two forwards is even better this year than it has been in the past. The keys to the game likely come in the matchup of the Skyline strikers against the Timpanogos defense.
Can the Eagles get something past Nelson? They will obviously need to find a way if they are going to win.
The Timberwolves were most dangerous offensively in the semifinal when Burnett, a central defender, pushed up into the attack along with midfielder Imelda Williams. Timpanogos will need some of that to get through a more athletic Skyline defense than it has seen in years past.
The key will be timing because when Burnett goes, she runs the risk of a counter to Daugirda and Heyn creating mismatches in the back if she is unable to retreat fast enough.
5A Final Matchup
Davis (19-0) has that thing (being undefeated and untied) that immediately draws attention to itself and it seemed to be weighing on the Darts the last two matches. Weber (16-2-1) will come in loose and ready to run after surviving that shootout.
The key to this one may be the same as it was for Davis against Fremont. If the Darts can get an early goal and make the Warriors chase the lead, it would be a good thing for the defending champions and trouble for the Warriors.
If, however, Weber can keep itself even or take the advantage, the Warriors can turn up the defense and really put the pressure on Davis. With Wade, Ireland Dunn and Colohan leading the way, and with a bunch of other talented scorers to call on as well, the Darts certainly have the weapons, but these Warriors have nothing to lose.