We don’t talk about (last year). We had a long team meeting before the season and told ourselves we were going to move on and weren’t going to lose focus this year no matter what. Last year is in the past. We have a new goal now. —Alex Espinoza, Wasatch High School senior
Since walking off the Jordan High School field a 2-1 loser to Dixie in a 3A semifinal playoff game last spring, the Wasatch High School soccer team has vowed to make amends.
The devastating loss was the end of the road for 10 Wasp seniors who had tasted a state championship just a year before in 2011. Also on that championship team of ’11 were several sophomores who felt they could possibly be in the middle of a three-year championship run. That wasn’t meant to be.
This season, those wide-eyed sophomores are now the wise old men who lead the 2013 undefeated Region 10 champion Wasatch Wasps.
But as great of an accomplishment as winning region was ... it is not enough for them.
Indeed, this season’s four Wasatch team captains are focused on winning a championship — not only for themselves, but for the 2012 graduates as well. It is not their single purpose, however, as they are in the midst of making their own incredible mark in Utah high school soccer history. But last year’s upset loss does linger.
“We don’t talk about it,” said senior Alex Espinoza. “We had a long team meeting before the season and told ourselves we were going to move on and weren’t going to lose focus this year no matter what. Last year is in the past. We have a new goal now.”
Espinoza had an amazing sophomore season in 2011, winning MVP honors in Region 10 and being among the leaders in goals scored.
2012 was a bit of a letdown for the star as he battled a nagging foot injury that slowed him down most of the year.
Taking a stranglehold on the top goalscoring duties for the Wasps was Ben Powell, who popped in 26 goals last season and currently has 23 this year. Powell, who has committed to play soccer for Dixie State when he returns from an LDS mission, is determined to lead his team to a championship.
“I want to be the best. We all want to be the best,” said Powell. “Our goal is to win it all and to do it undefeated would be unbelievable."
Defender Hunter Ketterer agreed with his co-captain: “To finish off undefeated and as state champs to end my high school career like that would just be huge.”
Powell and Ketterer, along with senior goalkeeper Cody Cowley, have been playing together since they were in the fifth grade. “That is really why we play so well together,” stated Cowley. “Our communication is so key. We all know what the other guys are thinking. It makes it easier when you know someone has got your back.”
Cowley pointed to a moment when the three were facing a team Espinoza was playing for a few summers ago. “I remember playing against Alex,” he said smiling. “We were like, 'If we only had that guy on our side."
Ketterer remembers all the youth coaches that Wasatch has had leading them through their club years. “They were so important to all of us getting better,” he said. “We just learned so much about soccer that by the time we got here, we knew what was expected of us."
The four senior co-captains for Wasatch are so at ease with each other it is hard to imagine any distress on the field. “We just stay focused on our game no matter what is going on,” added Powell. “Whether we’re in a tough spot in the game or not, we just keep fighting."
Wasatch head soccer coach Dawain Wheatley is in obvious praise of his senior captains.
“Oh man yeah, we’re fortunate to have such a good group of guys,” he said. “It’s great to see how far they’ve come. From young players just learning, looking for minutes on that ’11 team to now it’s been a wonderful experience.”
The Wasps must now put the regular season behind them. Many formidable opponents stand in their way of taking the 3A championship and none of the games will be easy.
“We have to play our best soccer,” said Wheatley. “We know what we can do, but so does everybody else. For us to advance in the postseason we will have to beat teams whose sole purpose is to knock out Wasatch. There’s some pressure there. It comes with being No. 1.”
Working in Wasatch’s favor is its four team captains. Four seniors who have spent more than eight years together honing their soccer skills so they could one day play as one. That day has come and no one seems more prepared for the moment than they are. ”It makes it easier when you know someone has got your back,” said Cowley.
The Wasps enter the playoffs as the No. 1-ranked team in 3A. They will host their first-round game Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m. against Stansbury.
Kenny Bristow is the staff sports writer for the Wasatch Wave and contributes to the Deseret News high school coverage for the Wasatch region. Email: email@example.com. To contribute to DNews Preps for your area, enquire at 801.237.2143.