I feel good about our chances this year and our chances every year. We had a really good group of freshmen come in this year, and a real good group next year as well. We’re inexperienced this year, but we should be competitive by the end. —Alta coach Lee Mitchell
The 2014 girls prep soccer season officially got underway last week, and some early favorites have already started to emerge.
Even though Brighton, Timpanogos, Dixie and Summit Academy won state championships last season, all four begin their title defense in 2014 with a slew of new starters dotting their starting 11s.
Conversely, several programs who came agonizingly close last year — Lone Peak, Skyline, Juan Diego and Waterford — return a ton of starters and are the early No. 1's in their respective classifications.
Here’s a class-by-class look at the upcoming 2014 season.
Since Alta won four straight state titles from 2006 to 2009, there’s been a different 5A state champion each of the last four years.
Lone Peak hopes to make it five straight new champions.
With virtually every starter back from last year’s semifinal team, the Knights are off to a strong start to the 2014 season and begin with the No. 1 ranking.
“Our core is back, and they’re healthy,” said Lone Peak coach Heather Dahl.
In two games already this year the Knights have outscored their opposition 11-0. The early finishing ability has been great to see for Dahl.
“We were young and creating opportunities last year and weren’t finishing them. So we’re doing a better job of finishing up top,” said Dahl.
As good as Lone Peak is, the race in 5A is realistically wide open. In Region 1, Davis and Viewmont are both expected to be good, while Alta and defending champion Brighton, of course, will be right in the thick of things.
Alta was 15-1-1 heading into last year’s quarterfinal game against Lone Peak, but lost in a shootout 5-4 on its home field, ending the careers of some brilliant high school players like Bizzy Phillips and Madie Lyons.
Only two starters — Whitney Paskins and Allie Millerberg — return from that team, but Alta coach Lee Mitchell is still very excited for the upcoming season.
“I feel good about our chances this year and our chances every year. We had a really good group of freshmen come in this year, and a real good group next year as well,” said Mitchell. “We’re inexperienced this year, but we should be competitive by the end.”
Defending champ Brighton won’t be quite as inexperienced as Alta, but graduating 11 seniors has definitely created some holes on the field. Finding the right blend of contributors between this year’s nine seniors and a talented junior class is the challenge in front of coach Mark Stoker.
“I’m thoroughly excited about the group. We have the potential; we have to come together as a team. You always get a boost after being there once,” said Stoker.
Over the past six years, Bonneville and Timpanogos have traded 4A state championships, with Timpanogos edging Skyline in last year’s title game.
Does that mean it’s Bonneville’s turn again? Not if Skyline has something to say about it.
Skyline returns its three leading goalscorers from last year, with juniors Holly Daugirda and Emmya Heyn and senior Jaslyn Masina having combined for 48 goals last year. Daugirda alone accounted for half of those with 24.
With 'keeper Hillary Weixler returning, and a slew of other starters, the Eagles are the early favorite in 4A.
“Skyline is the team that’s always kind of there at the end, and this could be their year,” said East coach Rudy Schenk, whose team lost to Skyline in last year’s 4A semifinals 1-0.
East and Skyline don’t meet in the preseason this year, and maybe that’s not a bad thing for East’s psyche as the team breaks in a bunch of new starters.
“I’m relying on some young girls that are really going to have to step up. It’s going to kind of be live and learn until they figure it out,” said Schenk, who said defense is the biggest area of concern.
One school that Schenk believes could be a sleeper team from his region is Clearfield. The Falcons were very competitive last year with a 13-5 record, and narrowly lost to Skyline in the quarterfinals 1-0.
Timpanogos of course will be a factor in 2014, but there’s a different feel to the program.
Megan Fereday is taking over as head coach for Natalyn Lewis, who led the T-Wolves to three state titles in her 10 years with the program. Fereday actually played for Lewis at Timpanogos before moving on to BYU to play college soccer.
The cupboard certainly isn’t bare for the new coach. Jordyn Chung-Hoon and Devri Hartle were both first-team midfielders last year, and they are the heart of the team again this season.
Dixie was a beast of a defensive team a year ago, only conceding six goals in its final 16 games of the season en route to the 3A state championship.
The 3A MVP anchor of that defense, along with another all-state defender and goalkeeper, all graduated, so it’s back to the drawing board a bit for the Flyers in 2014.
“They’re excited. They have taken on the rule of thumb that, that was last year, this is a fresh year and they need to put it together like last year’s team,” said Dixie coach Burt Myers.
With only seven seniors and two juniors on the roster, Dixie will be counting on a lot of sophomores and likely won’t dominate Region 9 like last season.
As a result, Myers expects his region to be tight at the top, along with Cedar, Snow Canyon, Desert Hills and Pine View.
“I know in our region, there’s going to be a lot of 1-0 games,” said Myers.
With returning all-state striker Aubri Challis, who’s coming off an 18-goal season, Dixie should be able to win its fair share of 1-0 games.
It beat Juan Diego in just such a game to claim last year’s state championship, and new Juan Diego coach Myriah Fankhauser said that loss has served as motivation all preseason.
Fankhauser was an assistant at Juan Diego the past two seasons, and with “98 percent of the squad returning from last year,” the Soaring Eagle are the early front-runners in 3A.
“They are gunning and ready to go. Everybody already knows. That’s the main goal — to get back to compete for the championship again. They’re driven and motivated,” said Fankhauser, whose team only features four seniors.
Balance will be the strength of Juan Diego’s lineup game in and game out.
“We have such a dynamic group. It’s not just one or two girls we’re leaning on. We’ll be successful if everybody shows up on the same day. If they don’t we won’t be successful,” said Fankhauser.
Park City figures to be in the 3A race once again this year, but replacing three first-team all-staters from last season won’t be easy.
A year after Waterford’s bid for a three-peat was spoiled by upstart Summit Academy, the Ravens are loaded with returning experience and enter the season with a chip on their shoulder.
“We have the most senior starters (eight) I can ever remember having,” said Waterford coach Tim Dolbin. “They’re pretty hungry.”
Perhaps no one is more hungry than Grace Sponaugle. The 2A MVP as a sophomore in 2012, Sponaugle missed the entire 2013 season with an ACL tear, but she’s back and anxious for a strong senior season.
Five other first-team all-staters are back from a year ago. Senior forwards Caroline Coats and Madeleine Morrill combined for 18 goals last season, while sophomore midfielder Madeline Duke also returns.
Waterford’s back line is anchored by seniors Elizabeth Sampson and Chloe Wilcox.
The rest of the 2A field should be wide open.
Rowland Hall is off to a strong start this preseason, while semifinalists from a year ago, Delta and Millard, both figure to put strong teams on the field.
Defending champ Summit Academy has a difficult road ahead trying to repeat as champs. The team lost a bunch of key players to graduation and a few to transfers. Meanwhile, Madison Sopena is taking over as head coach and there’s always a learning curve associated with a coaching change.
Deseret News preseason girls soccer rankings
1. Lone Peak
3. Mtn. View
1. Juan Diego
3. Park City
5. Snow Canyon
2. Rowland Hall
Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer.