KAMAS Out of the four semifinalists in this year's 2A girls soccer tournament, South Summit seemed out of place. The Wildcats did not boast a tradition of success comparable to other three teams who traveled to Woods Cross.
When the bracket matched them up with eventual state champion Rowland Hall, it seemed a foregone conclusion they would be little more than a speed bump in the Winged Lions' path to a title game showdown with undefeated Millard.
But instead of quietly submitting, South Summit gave Rowland Hall all it could handle before going home with a 3-1 loss.
"Everyone thought we were going to get killed in that game," senior forward Katie Neff said. "I thought it was cool to prove them wrong and put up a fight."
In many ways, the close loss along with postseason wins over South Sevier and Manti which preceded it represented a new and exciting chapter in the soccer program's history.
Prior to 2007, South Summit experienced barely any success on the soccer field. The Wildcats endured a winless campaign last fall, capping off a six-year stretch where they annually won three games or fewer.
Finding victories in region play proved especially futile. From 2001 to '06, South Summit compiled a 0-40-1 record in region games.
The Wildcats finally ended that dry spell in impressive fashion with a 6-2 victory over Layton Christian in their second region game. South Summit eventually swept both the Eagles and American Leadership Academy and finished with a 4-4-0 record in region play.
Getting that initial win did wonders for the team's confidence. By the time they faced Rowland Hall in the 2A semifinals, the Wildcats had already won five out of six games to get to that point.
"We worked together really well this year," said senior goalkeeper Allison Noot. "We could read each other pretty well."
Neff and Noot, in particular, helped orchestrate much of that impressive turnaround.
Neff led the offense with 18 goals ranking her among the top 10 scorers in 2A. Noot established herself as one of 2A's premier goalkeepers after stringing together three shutouts during her final seven games in the net.
Both players earned all-state recognition for helping the Wildcats climb the soccer ladder. Noot was named to the Deseret Morning News 2A first team and Neff earned a spot on the second team.
Coming from a program unaccustomed to such accolades, to describe receiving such honors as exciting would be an understatement.
"I couldn't believe it when I found out," Noot said. "I walked around the school with the newspaper showing everyone."
A challenge ahead for South Summit will be to keep moving forward. For a team which relied on several senior starters, it could be a difficult task. In rural Summit County, stringing together successful seasons is not as simple as drawing on replacement players from the local club soccer ranks.
Wildcats coach Jane Herbert acknowledges 2008 could involve plenty of rebuilding. But she feels more confident at where the Wildcats seem headed now than at any other time since starting up the program 12 years ago."It's amazing to see where we started and where we are now," Herbert said. "You can't help but love these kids and their work ethic and their dedication."