BOUNTIFUL Sometimes it is hard not to wonder about "what ifs." That is especially true for the Bountiful Braves 2007 soccer team.
"I truly believe that if we had all the pieces to the puzzle playing and healthy that this could have been one of the best teams ever," said Braves coach Dave Wigham. "We just had too many things come up against us in the end and couldn't keep it up."
The Braves were one of the top teams during the regular season as they were 14-1-1 overall and 10-1-1 in Region 5 despite losing several key players to injury. Monica Okapal went down with a torn ACL after only four games a span in which she had already netted eight goals; Sally Leloudis played most of the regular season and tallied 11 goals, but she too went out with an injury before the playoffs began.
Among the players who were able to play in the first-round upset loss to Olympus in a shootout, several did so with nagging injuries and at less than 100 percent.
"We had seven of our original 11 starters either out or basically playing on one leg or sick," added Wigham. "I don't like to make excuses because we got beat. Period. But it would have been nice to see what could have been."
Two of those players who were struggling with their health were the team's emotional and physical leaders. Chelsea Forbes, who had 10 goals and 24 assists for the Braves and will play at the University of Utah next season, was a first-team all-state selection and could take over games at anytime. Ari Wood played all over the field for Bountiful and will be taking her skills to Weber State next season.
"Those two will be sorely missed," said Wigham. "They were so important to what we were trying to accomplish. They are leaving a legacy here, and we are going to have to find people to step in next season to some huge holes they left."
Goalkeeper Molli Merrill has been an anchor at the back for the Braves for four years. She became the first athlete from Bountiful to be named all-state four consecutive years in nearly 50 years. She finished with 37 career shutouts, and her play in the net was a huge reason for the team's success during that span.
"She is just nails," Wigham said during the season. "She directs everything back there, and even more than that, the defenders can play with a lot of confidence knowing she is behind them."The good news for the Braves is that they do return some serious talent. Sophomore Felicia Sturgeon stepped in at the front line and showed glimpses of future brilliance. Okapal should be back and fully recovered by the time the season starts. The defense gained experience and should be stronger next season.
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