Tom Smart, Deseret News
A state playoff trip to Rio Tinto Stadium is a coveted one. It is a trip not many make in their short high school soccer careers, as only those with enough determination, skill, and heart are able to compete for a state championship.
For these four remarkable young men, it was a trip to be remembered — a trip where expectations were exceeded, odds were defied, and shiny trophies were won.
Mitch Jensen, Blaze Nelson, Tristan Cowles and Carlo Garcia led brilliantly all year long before capping the season with state championship victories, and they are this year's Deseret News Most Valuable Players in their respective classifications.
5A: Mitch Jensen, Davis
Davis goalkeeper Mitch Jensen propelled the Darts into what turned out to be an incredible 5A state playoff run when he made two crucial, diving saves in the final minutes of the quarterfinal contest against Lone Peak.
"I thought all we had to do was hold out for a few minutes to win," Jensen said, describing Colby Child's goal in the 78th minute. "Then a foul was called in the box in stoppage time and a PK was given. I knew I had to come up big with a save."
Not only was he able to read the first player for the astounding save, he was able to do it twice — as he left his line early and granted the Knights a re-kick.
Though a shining moment for the senior, who finished the season with 12 shutouts, his utter determination to be perfect throughout the rest of the tournament is what truly makes him the 5A ranks' Most Valuable Player.
According to head coach Souli Phongsavath, Jensen made a promise to the team after that game.
He said; "We're not going to lose anymore. We're going to win this whole thing. I won't let us lose."
The strong-minded keeper held true to his promise in the semifinal victory over Copper Hills, earning the shutout before toppling the mighty Brighton Bengals for the 5A crown, 1-0.
"I was hoping the final would be against Brighton," he said. "They beat us in a preseason game and I knew we hadn't brought our best effort in that game. I wanted the opportunity to play them again and to show them we were a better team."
Jensen set the defensive tone throughout the season, giving the centers assurance and carrying the pressure on his own back. His teammates knew that they didn't have to be perfect because he was there to back them up, and his confidence truly set him apart.
"Keeper is always a nerve-wracking position," he said. "That's why many people don't want to play it. But to me, I love the pressure and the nerves of knowing that if I let shots go in, we are going to lose the game. I always stay focused and know what I need to do so that we'll be able to win."
The high-achiever started playing soccer at the age of 8. He has played on the Utah 93 ODP team since he was 13, he made the RSL U17 team pool, and has trained with a slew of notable keeper coaches — coaches to whom he attributes a great deal of his success.
Jensen will be attending Western Wyoming on a full-ride academic and athletic scholarship this fall.
"He's a just a great kid all around," coach Phongsavath said. "To me, that's the most important thing. He's a better kid off the soccer field then on, which is saying a lot, because to me, he is the best keeper in the state, hands down."
4A: Blaze Nelson, Olympus
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