I’m on cloud nine; this is awesome. No sport in our school has ever done this. This is just the greatest. —American Leadership Academy head coach Steve Solen
SANDY — For the first time in school history, the American Leadership Academy Eagles are champions.
The Spanish Fork school claimed its first ever title in the 2A boys soccer final with a 3-1 victory over Manti at Rio Tinto Stadium Saturday afternoon.
“I’m on cloud nine; this is awesome,” head coach Steve Solen said afterward. “No sport in our school has ever done this. This is just the greatest.”
With the weight of the school on their shoulders, the ALA coaches encouraged their players to embrace the moment.
“They were nervous,” Solen said. “There was a lot of pressure, they felt it, but before the game, we just said, ‘play your game and you guys will win.’ ”
Midfielder Hector Martinez ignited the celebration early, scoring two first-half goals to give the Eagles the lead.
He netted the first in the ninth minute with a header after a corner kick. He added the second in the 24th minute, sending a line drive to the back of the box from approximately 30 yards out.
“The time to step up was today,” Solen said of the senior, who finished with seven goals this season.
“He’s a great goal scorer I’m really happy with his performance,” the coach continued. “His last two, three games in the state tournament have just been great.”
Manti senior Carlo Garcia scored the Templars’ goal in the 15th minute — tying the score before Martinez gave ALA back the lead — by creating distance between himself and the Eagle defenders and then sending the ball over the top of charging ALA goalkeeper Anson Gwilliam.
Gwilliam responded with a game-changing block on a Manti penalty kick to close out the first half, giving the Eagles all the momentum for the remainder of the match.
“I just kind of knew he was going to that side and went with my instinct — and it worked out great,” Gwilliam said. “I feel like I really assisted our team, gave us a huge boost.”
Solen added that it was not the first time the young goalie has made such a save.
“He’s 3-for-4 on stopping PKs,” the coach said. “He knows how to read them. He’s just been on the ball. It fueled us out there. I saw a jolt of energy after that save.”
The Eagles added their final goal in the 64th minute when senior striker Cobi Warren floated the ball over the Manti defense and right in front of sophomore Titi Chichia, who tapped it in.
“I felt really good about this game,” senior leader Levi Lopez said. “It really brought out our communication and the hard work that we put into this year.”
Manti, the only non-private or charter school to advance to the 2A semifinals, finished the season 16-2-0 overall with a perfect run through the 2A West region en route to the league title.
The Templars were led all season by the stellar play of Garcia and Alvero Cardenas, who scored 24 goals, and Juan Frutos, who added 23 goals. All three finished the season in the top five on the 2A scoring leaderboard.
The ALA roster boasts three 20-goal scorers in Lopez, Warren and Brannon Tulley; the team finished the season with an overall record of 17-1-0; and it won the 2A West region title. Prior to the championship run, the team advanced to the quarterfinals a year ago and to the semifinals in 2008 but mustered just 12 wins in the four other seasons of play.
“These guys have worked their butts off all year long, and they deserve it,” Solen said. “This was their game. They deserve it.”
Email: Sarah Thomas is a graduate of the University of Utah and has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org