Story and photos by Kurt Johnson
Editor’s note – The criteria for our male and female athlete of the year are the same as they have been in previous years. We are looking for multi-sport athletes who have excelled at the highest level in at least two sports, and if possible, three sports, during the high school sports year.
When it came time to select our TOSH female athlete of the year, a few other variables came into play, beginning with the fan vote online at PrepsUtah.com. More than 20,000 votes came in for that award and the results, added with our internal rankings, may have taken us into a slightly different direction than we anticipated.
Even when you’re an elite three-sport athlete that has been on top of her game for four years of high school, sometimes it’s hard to be in the spotlight when team success doesn’t come. Such was the case in two of the three sports in which our TOSH female athlete of the year participated or she would have at least one more first-team all-state honor.
Torri Bills has been a fixture on the soccer field, basketball court and softball diamond at Wasatch High for the last four years. She was a first-team all-state soccer player in the fall after leading the state with 12 shutouts for a Wasp squad that reached the state semifinal round.
From that point forward, Bills toiled in relative obscurity when it came to media coverage as she was her normally steady self during basketball season before delivering yet another stellar campaign at shortstop for the Wasatch softball team. Despite playing for a team that missed the postseason, she still earned a second consecutive second-team all-state selection in her No. 1 sport.
Bills hit .493 with 14 doubles and 32 RBI for the Wasps, but her greatest attributes, as they always have been, came on defense and in her role as a team leader. The senior will move on to Snow College to play collegiate softball after a career that included 35 doubles, eight home runs, seven triples and more than 100 stolen bases.
Bills was the team MVP at Wasatch in all three of her sports, all while delivering a 3.98 GPA in the classroom. She certainly was a first-team all-state level player if she had not been playing under the radar in the state’s toughest region, Region 8, where getting past the southern Utah County powers just to make the playoffs is a rough ride.
What Torri Bills is, based on her incredible versatility and her success in three different sports, is the Preps Utah/TOSH 2015-16 female athlete of the year.
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. Bills was one of the state’s most athletic goalkeepers, which was a necessity when you consider that she is just 5-foot-4, not great height for a goalie.
“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.
“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. 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 came 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.”
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.
“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.”