Almost exactly one year ago, the Bountiful girls soccer team was preparing for the first round of the 4A state tournament, just as it is now. Little did those girls know, they were taking the first steps toward an eventual second-place finish, losing only to Bonneville, 1-0, in the 4A title match at Rio Tinto Stadium 10 days later.
On Tuesday, the Braves will meet Bonneville once again, this time in a first-round game, as the three-time Region 6 champions, and with a wealth of experience at their disposal.
"If you get even one appearance at Rio Tinto, that makes you a veteran," said Bountiful head coach Lou Plank. "They've been there, and that is their long-term, ultimate goal — to get another appearance at Rio Tinto. "
It is a site Plank is both in awe of and somewhat familiar with. After reaching the title game with the Bountiful girls last fall, he led the boys team back to the big stadium, where the Braves won the championship.
“I think having taken second with the girls, it got me prepared to get these boys better prepared,” Plank said after accepting the trophy in May. “Some of the things that were awesome to the girls in the true sense of the word — like this venue and how it seems so much bigger than it actually is — helped us prepare these boys.”
The Lakers, meanwhile, have gone from winning last year's title to entering the tournament as the fourth seed out of Region 5 with a 5-6-1 record in league play. It is Logan that surprisingly emerged as the champion of the northern league. The Grizzlies, who won just three games in region and five games total a year ago, finished 10-2 in Region 5 and 12-4 overall.
Skyline, which split the Region 7 title with Timpanogos, enters postseason play with the No. 1 seed from Region 7 and the No. 1 Deseret News ranking. The Timberwolves are second in both categories and will host 4A newcomer Wasatch, while the Eagles play Springville and Region 8 champion Maple Mountain faces Corner Canyon.
Alta again enters the 5A state tournament as a strong favorite, holding the top ranking in 5A and having captured the outright Region 3 championship. After a second-place finish last season, the Hawks have lost just once — a 1-0 game to Montgomery, Calif., in early September — and tied just once — a 2-2 game against Brighton in the regular-season finale.
The Hawks' roster boasts three of the four top scorers in the classification in Bizzy Phillips (21 goals), Sydney Fitzpatrick (18), and Madie Lyons (17), as well as the goalkeeper with the most shutouts in the state (Julianne Gentry with 10 1/2).
Hillcrest won Region 2's top seed with a perfect run through the league, while the Fremont Silver Wolves and the Riverton Silverwolves earned the Region 1 and Region 4 championships, respectively. Fremont claimed the No. 1 seed after edging defending champion Viewmont twice during the regular season.
"The last couple of years it seems like we've been just having some upsets," Fremont coach Tiva Palmer said after beating the Vikings, 3-1, on Oct. 1. "We wanted to make a statement to not only our community but to Utah that we're here to play this year."
In 3A, Southern Utah-based Region 9 is once again one of the most competitive leagues in the state. The league received five state-qualifying berths this season.
"There are no weak teams," said Dixie head coach Burt Meyers, whose team escaped region play with a league-best record of 11-0-1.
Cedar City and defending state champion Snow Canyon earned the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds and fourth and third rankings, respectively. Desert Hills and Pine View round out the Region 9 entries.
"The games are always nail-biters, always evenly matched," Meyers said. "We had to prepare mentally and physically every game; there was no time to develop bad habits."
The coach added that the competitive league has been good training for other 3A teams.
"The other regions have two or three teams always contending at state," Meyers said. "Park City, Juan Diego, Bear River, Payson — they are all going to be there battling."
The Park City Miners are the top seed out of Region 10 and the Juan Diego Soaring Eagle the second seed. They are also the second- and fifth-ranked teams in all of 3A. The Bear River Bears are the No. 1 team out of Region 11 and the Payson Lions are the Region 12 champions.
The most dominant region in Utah is 2A North, which houses the top four-ranked teams in the 2A classification, including defending champion Waterford. The Ravens, who allowed just one goal through league play, are looking to reach their sixth consecutive title match and win their fifth since 2008.
The road to all four title matches will be bumpy as the best teams battle for a chance to reach Rio Tinto Stadium.
"With a really good bunch of kids in the whole state tournament, you also have to rely on a really good bunch of luck," Plank said of the road ahead of the four teams that ultimately win their classification's championship. "It's a pretty complex formula. With any luck we'll go deep into the tournament and, who knows, maybe we'll end up at Rio Tinto again."
5A state tournament
Tuesday's first round
West (5-11-0) at Brighton (12-2-1), 4 p.m.
Davis (11-5-0) at Riverton (14-2-0), 4 p.m.
American Fork (8-7-1) at Fremont (13-3-0), 4 p.m.
Jordan (8-7-1) at Cottonwood (8-4-1), 4 p.m.
Lehi (11-5-0) at Viewmont (12-3-0), 4 p.m.
Bingham (6-7-1) at Hillcrest (12-3-0), 4 p.m.
Hunter (4-10-2) at Alta (14-1-1), 4 p.m.
Northridge (12-6-0) at Lone Peak (11-5-0), 4 p.m.
4A state tournament
Tuesday's first round
Mountain View (8-8-0) at Timpview (11-3-2), 4 p.m.
Highland (10-6-1) at Logan (12-4-0), 4 p.m.
Bonneville (7-7-2) at Bountiful (12-3-1), 4 p.m.
Wasatch (9-6-1) at Timpanogos (12-1-1), 4 p.m.
Sky View (8-4-4) at Clearfield (12-4-0), 4 p.m.
Springville (8-7-1) at Skyline (15-1-0), 4 p.m.
Corner Canyon (7-8-0) at Maple Mountain (13-2-1), 4 p.m.
East (11-5-0) at Mountain Crest (9-4-3), 4 p.m.
3A state tournament
Wednesday's first round
Uintah (8-8-0) at North Sanpete (8-5-1), 4 p.m.
Tooele (6-10-0) at Dixie (11-2-2), 4 p.m.
Desert Hills (6-7-2) at Bear River (12-2-1), 4 p.m.
Richfield (6-9-1) at Park City (10-4-2), 4 p.m.
Stansbury (9-5-0) at Cedar (11-3-0), 4 p.m.
Morgan (4-12-0) at Payson (10-5-1), 4 p.m.
Pine View (8-7-1) at Juan Diego (12-4-0), 3 p.m.
Snow Canyon (7-5-2) at Ben Lomond (11-5-0), 4 p.m.
2A state tournament
Wednesday's first round
Central No. 5 at Waterford (9-4-0), 4 p.m.
Parowan (7-7-0) at South Summit (9-5-0), 4 p.m.
St. Joseph (4-8-1) at Delta (10-3-1), 4 p.m.
Maeser Prep (5-5-0) at Grand (6-3-0), 4 p.m.
Layton Christian (1-8-0) at Millard (11-1-1), 4 p.m.
Am. Leadership (3-9-0) at Rowland Hall (6-5-0), 4 p.m.
South Sevier (3-10-0) at Manti (10-4-0), 4 p.m.
Diam. Ranch (3-6-1) at Summit Acad (7-6-0), 4 p.m.
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.
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