This is just a great feeling. I don't think there's any group that deserves it more than these girls right here. —Snow Canyon coach Ken Kunde
SANDY — The Snow Canyon Warriors are state champions.
For the southern Utah school's girls' soccer program, it is the first time in school history those words have been strung together.
"This is unbelievable," head coach Ken Kunde said after his team defeated Park City 1-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium in the 3A title game on Saturday afternoon. "This is just a great feeling. I don't think there's any group that deserves it more than these girls right here."
It took most of the game before the Warriors finally found the back of the net. Midfielder Sarah Henderson put Snow Canyon on the board in the 72nd minute when she scored on a free kick.
"We switch off (on free kicks)," Henderson said. "I have (taken them) recently but every girl can take a free kick, every girl can put them in. They chose me for some reason."
A Park City hand ball gave the Warriors possession just outside the box. Henderson sent the ball over a line of Miner defenders, and it hit off the crossbar and ricocheted into the net.
"I think that sparked the fire," the senior said of her goal. "The first thing that ran through my head was complete gratitude that the ball went in the net. The second was to go a little bit harder on defense. The third was, 'Let's keep this state championship, let's take it.' "
The Snow Canyon defense played strong throughout the match, holding off a powerful Park City offense led by junior Jessica Dancy.
"My defense has been outstanding all season and I had complete faith the whole game that they were going to come out and stop them," said Grace Walton, the Warriors' goalkeeper. "They've made it so easy on me — although it wasn't super easy today."
Walton had a couple of scares, including a sequence in the 67th minute when Dancy hit a shot off the right post, collected the ball on the rebound, and hit another shot off the left post.
After the second attempt, the Snow Canyon defense cleared the ball to give Walton some relief.
"Our four starting backs are seniors and they gave it all they had the whole time, the whole 4,800 seconds. I am so proud of them," said the junior keeper. "Macey Gates, Autumn Shipp, Janel Prince and Jadyn Losee — I owe it all to them."
Saturday's match was an emotional event for the Warriors. Not only was it their first title, but it was also the final game the Warriors' 10 seniors would play together.
"These (seniors) have been working hard since they were in sixth grade. There are 10 of them left from that group of 15, and they've just put their hearts and souls into everything they've done," Kunde said. "As freshmen, this group right here went to the quarterfinals; as sophomores, semis; last year, quarters; and this year they broke through."
Henderson was a leader of that group, serving as the Snow Canyon student body president and earning Academic All-State honors. Seniors Macey Gates and Madeline Berger also represented the Warriors on the Academic All-State team.
"Sarah is an all-around tremendous girl," Kunde said. "She comes from a great family and, no doubt, she is the heart and soul of this team."
The Warriors had also dedicated their season to a friend and classmate who drowned during the summer — KJ Harrison, who played baseball for Snow Canyon's state championship team last spring.
"They were all very, very close to him," Kunde said. "All season long, they've been dedicating what they've been doing to him, a lot of writing his initials. Today happens to be his birthday."Comment on this story
After being presented the championship trophy, the Warriors sang happy birthday to KJ while pointing toward the sky.
Park City finished the season with an overall record of 17-1-2 and a Region 10 championship. The Miners were led by Dancy's 16 goals and by the play of Skye Mooney in goal.
"I think Region 10 was probably the best region this year with Park City, Juan Diego, Judge, Wasatch," Kunde said. "We had to go through three of them to get here. There's no doubt that our region prepares us well for that, it's a good testament to southern Utah soccer. We're going to be around for a while with a lot of good, competitive teams."