The high school girls' soccer state tournaments kick off this week, and in the fight for the 3A state title, the Ogden Tigers are working hard to attempt a repeat.
"We've got a hard route in front of us; there are good teams out there," said Ogden coach Jason Steiner.
The Tigers took advantage of staying under the radar throughout last season prior to beating Cedar in the championship match. This time around, however, Steiner says his team cannot get comfortable. "I fear (due to) our success last season, teams are going to be ready for us," he said.
The undefeated Tigers are anchored by a strong defense, which has only allowed six goals on the season. Senior goalkeeper Kelsey East has recorded 10 shutouts.
Kiley Porter and Avery Calton lead a balanced Ogden offense, which has seen 12 different players score goals this season. Porter has so far totaled 24 goals, a statistic that ranks her third statewide and second in 3A in goals per game. Calton has scored 16 goals for the Tigers, ranking her sixth in 3A.
"We have the same core as last season, there haven't been a lot of changes," Steiner said, "but we are deeper than last year."
Steiner said that meeting Judge in the first round will be a challenge for his team., and added that throughout the 3A tournament there will be tough matchups.
"(Region 11) is always tough," he said. "Park City is playing very well, and Juan Diego, you always expect them to be there in the end."
Spanish Fork's McKinley Brinkerhoff leads 3A and the state in scoring with 41 goals on the season. In the southern region, Snow Canyon battled to a tough Region 9 title, Dixie has come on strong recently and Cedar has returned this season with the same tough defense that took it to the championship a year ago.
"We know where we want to go and what we need to do to get there," Steiner said. "Our focus is to get better each game, to stay grounded and to stay hungry."
Another team looking for a championship repeat is the always-strong Alta Hawks. The defending 5A champions have not lost a game this season and have only tied once. They have shut out eight teams and have won by an average of four goals per game.
Challenging the Hawks' bid at another title run will be Region 3 rival Brighton. The Bengals have lost just two games on the season, both to Alta and by just one goal each time. Davis and Bingham have battled to the top of Regions 1 and 4, respectively, and last year's runner-up, Viewmont, has returned to the top of Region 3. Taylorsville, the second-place team out of Region 2, boasts the overall high scorer in 5A in senior Abi Black.
The battle for the 2A crown was thrown for a loop last week when the North division played its region tournament to determine seeding. St. Joseph stood at the top of the standings before being knocked into second place with a loss to defending champion Waterford. Newcomer Summit Academy is also in the mix with a third-place seeding.
"When you run into the North region with all the private schools, it gets tough," said Grand County coach Mike Camps. "A lot of those kids, all they do is play soccer week in and week out on competitive teams. Those kids are soccer athletes."
Chelsey Keefer is a Summit Academy player and leads the classification with 17 goals on the season. Kate Weil of St. Joseph is fourth in 2A with 11 goals.
"When you go to smaller schools like Grand, these kids often play two and three sports," Camps said. "They are athletes, but don't spend as much time on the soccer field."
The 2A player with the highest average of goals per game is a senior from Grand County. Amanda Sheets has scored 16 times this season, averaging two goals per game.
"Everyone will be watching out for Amanda," Camps said. "She's our leading scoring and has been for four years now."
Manti is the only team that has beaten Grand this season and holds the top spot in the 2A East region. Millard is undefeated in 2A West play and will face Rowland Hall in Wednesday's first round.
In 4A, top-ranked Bonneville looks to move past the semifinals, where it stumbled against second-ranked Skyline a year ago.
"Our goal, of course, is the championship game," Bonneville coach Rob McDaniel said, "but at the same time we are taking it one game at a time. Orem has done well in big games. They have our focus."
The Lakers will take on Orem with senior Megan Fillpot in goal. Fillpot has recorded 10 shutouts this season, and is aided by the work of Sadee Sholly and the rest of the Bonneville defense.
"We have had only six goals scored on us all year, just three in region play," McDaniel said. "Our defense is our strong point."
The 4A tournament will be filled with close contests. When asked what teams to watch for, McDaniel listed nearly every team in the tournament as a strong team.
"I think there will be a lot of close games," he said. "In the first round, I think there will be a few upsets and big wins. After that, with No. 1's versus No. 2's, I think there will be a lot of close games."
Along with Bonneville, it is Bountiful, Skyline and Maple Mountain that finished at the top of their respective regions. Skyline senior Ashley Aberton is second in scoring for the classification. She has scored 19 goals, just one behind 4A-leading Lana Willard of Box Elder.
One of 4A's newest members, Herriman, has already worked hard to elbow its way into the tournament. The Mustangs defeated Murray in a Region 7 tiebreaker when Taylor Crowton knocked in a goal late in the second half. They then turned around to defeat Mountain View on a Rachel Richards goal in a 4A play-in game. After a weekend of rest, the Mustangs will travel to play Bountiful today.
"When you cross regions, you never know," McDaniel said of predicting winners in tournament play. "Preseason is a crapshoot; teams are still trying to figure out their lineups. In region, you know more what to expect because you see those teams often. In the playoffs, when you cross regions and play all new teams, you have no idea what to expect. Anything can happen."
Tournament play for 5A and 4A teams starts on Tuesday while 3A and 2A begins Wednesday. All first-round games will be played at the home site of the higher-seeded team.
(All games at 4 p.m.)
Riverton at Brighton
Hunter at Davis
Weber at Viewmont
Jordan at Lone Peak
Northridge at Taylorsville
Cottonwood at Bingham
Lehi at Alta
West at Fremont
Woods Cross at Hillcrest
Box Elder at Maple Mountain
Orem at Bonneville
Olympus at Clearfield
Timpview at Sky View
Herriman at Bountiful
East at Skyline
Mtn. Crest at Timpanogos
(All games at 4 p.m.)
Wasatch at Bear River
Pine View at Spanish Fork
Stansbury at Snow Canyon
Ben Lomond at Juan Diego
Payson at Dixie
Morgan at Park City
Judge Memorial at Ogden
Cedar at Delta
South Sevier at Waterford
Parowan at Richfield
Layton Christian at ALA
Maeser Prep at Grand County
Rowland Hall at Millard2 comments on this story
Gunnison at St. Joseph
South Summit at Manti
Beaver at Summit