The high school girls' soccer landscape in 2011 is shaping up to look very familiar to 2010, thanks in large part to the Brighton Bengals. The defending 5A state champions are fighting through a tough preseason schedule and sit at 3-0-1 for the season.
Meeting up early with strong teams like Bountiful and Riverton, the Bengals have been forced to prove they are deserving of all the hype coming off of last year's state title.
Although still early, the Bengals have met each challenge head-on and remain unbeaten since 2009 — a feat that contributes heavily to the targets on their backs.
"Everyone wants to beat the returning state champs," said Brighton coach Tenile Vance. "Anyone could take that game from us at any time. We have to be ready every single game."
Brighton boasts a sturdy mix of key contributors this year, starting with senior goalkeeper Natalie Stoven. Having a solid returner in such a crucial role will be big for Brighton in its quest for another state title.
Defenders Lexi Felis and Jesse Berg will help protect the goal as well, and strong play and leadership is expected from Kassidy "Sass" Kellog, Kelcie Douglas and Sarah Ranck.
The squad's experience as a top team in the state last year will undoubtedly give it an edge once region play begins.
"Most of these girls were on the field with the talented team last year," Vance said. "They have pushed this on the younger players that don't know what it takes and what it feels like. They know that it doesn't come handed to you and that you have to work hard every single day to continue to get better as a team."
With veteran leadership and young talent, the sky is the limit for the Bengals. However, with such a diverse spread throughout 5A, the road will not be easy for anyone.
Despite being knocked out early in the state tournament last year, Alta achieved four consecutive titles ending with the state championship in 2009.
The Hawks will look to returner Michele Murphy to front the offense, while Lexe Selman will aid in the midfield, and defenders Taylor Campbell and Sarah Bain will lead the defensive effort. This leadership will contribute to the Hawks' success as they start six new players this season.
Davis may also be a big contender in 5A with Dani MacKay, Kenzie Harrison and Sammi Swan leading the way. MacKay led the state last season with 12 shutouts in 19 games. Harrison was also among the elite, finishing fifth in the state for scoring with 16 goals.
"I've liked the way we've played the past four games," said Davis coach Souli Phongsavath. "We'll battle for region and hopefully contend for a state championship."
Viewmont is always a team to be reckoned with and will be led by senior Ali Forsberg. Forsberg was third in the state in scoring last year with 18 goals. West is a potential threat as well, as the Panthers' players have played together for several years and promise possession-driven, quick and exciting soccer.
Riverton is returning nine starters and should be competitive in its new region.
In 4A, things are looking similarly competitive and tough as nails. No one team is going to have an easy jaunt to class supremacy, although Bountiful seems to be emerging as a team likely to contend. The Braves are stacked with talent and have been taking on a tough preseason schedule and getting good results.
Led by senior Paige Hunt with five goals so far on the season, the Braves defeated Viewmont 3-0 and gave Brighton a run for its money, ending the game in a 2-2 draw.
Further north, the Bonneville Lakers hope to repeat last season's success after taking the 4A state title last year.
Timpanogos, last year's 4A runner-up, is composed of younger players and will benefit from the leadership of senior captains Jamie Harward and Lexi Henry. Jordyn Chung Hoon will also aid in the success with her ability to put the ball into the net.
Both the Lakers and Timberwolves will likely be serious contenders.
Maple Mountain, East, Sky View and Skyline all have enjoyed a successful start to the season and are showing promise, but really any number of teams could rise to the top of the competitive 4A classification.
Class 3A is difficult to gauge this year, as there are many teams capable of claiming the crown. Emily Bruder of Juan Diego led the state in scoring last year with 35 goals and will look to lead her team to its third straight championship.
The defending champs are hoping to see success with Bruder and other returners Katlyn Flynn, Madison Muzatko, Meghan Keliher, Tyler Cain and Kristen Shimkus. Juan Diego faces tougher competition and a new challenge in its move to Region 10.
Park City, second only to Juan Diego last year, is also in the region, along with Judge Memorial, Wasatch, Union and Uintah.
In Region 9, Dixie is currently leading the pack, with Hurricane hot on its heels.
In 2A, St. Joseph's chances of a repeat title are high. The team is built on strong returning contributors such as Ivee Barton, Jane Porter and BreAnna DeMar. The team got off to a good start, playing defending champion Juan Diego to a tie Aug. 10.
The Jayhawks played a tough preseason schedule to show their quality and have high hopes in an incredible freshman class and outstanding senior players.
Manti has a good returning core and has displayed exceptional performance in the early going. Ali Rosquist leads the team with six goals. American Leadership, Rowland Hall and Richfield also show true potential and the battle for the 2A crown should be a close one.