For three seasons, from 2014-2016, there was no better girls soccer team in all of Utah than the Davis Darts. Arguments can be made of course for the likes of Skyline, Alta, Fremont and others, but back-to-back undefeated seasons, back-to-back-to-back 5A state championships and two Deseret News Ms. Soccer award winners (Haylee Cacciacarne and Mikayla Colohan) silence those claims pretty quickly.
The fact of the matter is, the Darts went on one of the most dominant runs in state history (only three other teams have ever won three straight championships, the Alta Hawks from 2006-2009 (Alta took home a state record four consecutive state titles), the Mountain View Bruins (2000-2002) and the Olympus Titans (1994-1996)).
Times are changing, however. With the introduction of the 6A classification and the departure of more than a few vital Darts (most notably Colohan), Davis is no longer the favorite.
That honor belongs to the American Fork Cavemen, with good reason.
The Cavemen have been fantastic all year, finishing the regular season with a classification best 15-1-0 record. Their only loss came late in the year against Bingham, a loss which American Fork head coach Derek Dunn noted, “was something that was coming and needed to happen.”
They have been led by Jamie Shepherd, who boasts a team-high 10 goals scored, as well as goalkeeper Haven Empey, the proud owner of four shutouts.
“We are in the spot that we need to be in. It’s not like it was last year," Dunn said of his Cavemen, who were expected to be one of the, if not the, main threat to Davis, but who fell to Fremont in the 2016 semifinals. "There is a different feeling around this team. This team and these kids are so much younger, but they have played at such a high level. They’re ready to play a game that means something.”
They aren’t the only ones. The Syracuse Titans made winning the Region 1 title look easy. Led by premier goal scorers Caroline Stringfellow (21 goals) and Ashlyn Hall (16 goals), the Titans finished with a 14-2-0 record and a top-five ranking.
“We have a goal to win the state title,” said Titans head coach Taylor Allen. “American Fork is obviously the favorite and we know our program has never been to a state championship game, but we don’t care. We are at a really good place. We have studs that can put the ball in the net (cue Stringfellow and Hall), but we are deep too. We are dangerous from all over the field.”
Similar to Syracuse, the Copper Hills Grizzlies (13-1-2) are both region champs (Region 3) and a championship threat. The Grizzlies’ Nikki Oliver (29 goals) has been one of the best goal scorers in the state, while goalie McCaslin Davis (seven shutouts) has been unbeatable at times.
Copper Hills may have edged out Herriman for their region title, but the Mustangs are sure to make some noise in the playoffs. Herriman scored more goals (79) than any other 6A team this season, led by Emma Lightfoot (19 goals) and Cassidy Adams (16 goals).
Other possible championship contenders include Pleasant Grove (9-5-1), Northridge (11-5-2), Layton (9-6-1) and of course, Davis (8-5-2).
The defending state champion Timpview T-Birds came up short in their quest for a region title (Timpview finished second in Region 7 behind Corner Canyon) and yet are as good a bet as any in 5A to hoist the state championship trophy.
The reason? The T-Birds, under head coach Eric Brady, seem to catch fire at just the right moment.
In 2016, that was evidenced by a dominant 6-1 win over Provo to close out region play, followed by impressive playoff victories over Maple Mountain, Bonneville and Skyline.
This time around, it’s a victory over the top-ranked Chargers (13-2-0), in the season finale, that has the T-Birds primed to make another run.
“We are peaking at the right time,” said Brady. “We have girls back from injury and we have valuable championship experience. We are the defending champions.”
Leading the way for Timpview (12-3-0) all season long has been a core of experienced players, including Alyssa Spackman, Ashton Brockbank and Alaina Pestana. Add in the youth, but obvious talent, of players like Lily Haskins, and the T-Birds seem more than capable of repeating as champs.
“The win (over Corner Canyon) was great, but it wasn’t a state championship,” said Brady. “Our goal is to win state.”
Standing in the way of that will be the Chargers. Despite the loss to Timpview and with all due respect to Skyline, Corner Canyon has been considered the best team in 5A all season long.
“(Corner Canyon) are fast, skilled and well-coached,” said Brady. “There is a reason they are the top-ranked team in the state.”
The Chargers rolled through region play thanks to the efforts of Hallee Jones (14 goals) and Makenzie Easton (11 goals). Goalie Allison Stanley was a standout as well, with seven shutouts.
“We are really well balanced and play well as a team,” said Corner Canyon head coach Krissa Reinbold. “We are very fast and have a lot of quickness at every position. Most importantly, our seniors are all really good leaders who truly want to win.”
The only team to defeat Corner Canyon this year, aside from Timpview, was Skyline, making the Eagles a real and significant threat.
Skyline (12-2-2) took home the Region 6 crown but struggled toward the end of the season, with two losses and a draw in their final three games.
East (10-4-1) handed the Eagles one of those late defeats, and, alongside the Region 5 champ Woods Cross (9-1-4), has a genuine shot at the 5A championship.
As far as Spanish Fork head coach Shane Ferrin is concerned, his Dons are “firing on all cylinders,” heading into the playoffs.
It’s more than that though.
“We have the best team Spanish Fork has ever seen,” said Ferrin. “I couldn’t be more happy about it.”
He isn’t wrong. The 2017 season has been a breakout year for the Dons, who finished the regular season 13-1-1 and Region 10 champions.
Thanks to a balanced possession approach that saw nine players find the back of the net, including leading scorer Annabelle Buck (10 goals), the Dons (60 goals) had one of the most dynamic attacks in the classification, trailing only Bonneville (65) in goals scored.
Add in the fact that the Dons have allowed just 12 goals all season, the best mark in 4A, and it’s simple to understand why they are the favorites to bring home the state title.
“Not to brag about them too much, but most of the teams we have come up against this year are saying, ‘Hey, we are not too bad. We are doing really well against other teams. It’s just when you guys show up you are in a completely different class’,” said Ferrin.
A few teams should be able to give them a run for their money, however, including the Bonneville Lakers. Bonneville (12-2-2) took home the Region 11 title, thanks in part to a perfect home record.
“We have not only won (at home) but we have had some pretty big wins,” said Lakers headman Rob McDaniel. “Our scoring has really picked up this year as well. We have three girls (Izzy Togisala, Jaycee Stein and Bailey Hassell) who have scored in double figures. The girls realize what is at stake this season, have buckled down, and are playing great soccer.”
Not to be forgotten are the Region 12 champion Sky View Bobcats. Sharron Wood’s team rolled through region play with a perfect record, on the back stellar seasons by Sidney Barlow (16 goals) and Kylee Griffin (13 goals).
“We have played with injuries off and on all season, but all of our injury laden kids have been cleared to play,” said Wood. “We will have a full team and I think the girls are prepared heading into the playoffs.”
Snow Canyon (10-4-1) claimed the Region 9 championship, and, along with Ogden (11-3-1) and Salem Hills (8-5-3), stand to be a difficult out.
If the Deseret News rankings are to be believed, the Manti Templars are the team to beat in 3A. After all, the Templars (13-1-2) swept through region play en route to the Region 15 title.
The reason for their dominance (Manti went undefeated in region play) was twofold. The Templars were paced by an extremely balanced attack and a stifling defense. Brynlee Golding led the way offensively, with a team-high 13 goals, but she was not alone as 13 Templars managed to find the back of the net. Meanwhile, goalkeepers Katie Larsen and Jentry Young combined for seven shutouts, helping Manti hold opponents to just 12 goals scored.
If nothing else, Manti is as good a threat as any to take home the state title.
And yet, if there is a team prepared for the rigors of postseason play, it is the Morgan Trojans.
The Trojans began the season with as difficult a preseason slate as they could muster, facing the likes of Northridge, Stansbury and Bonneville.
While winless in those contests, the experience the Trojans garnered is something head coach Bryan Searle wouldn’t trade.
“We wanted to play higher classification teams. We wanted to play harder, faster and stronger teams,” said Searle. “I think it helped us prepare for both region play and the playoffs.”
Morgan (11-5-0) finished with an undefeated record in region play and a Region 13 championship, but more importantly, it looks like a championship contender.
“We are truly a team,” said Searle. “This team plays together more than any team I have ever coached. They make each other better and rely on one another. That’ll only help us in the playoffs.”
Delta (12-2-2), Judge Memorial (6-5-2) and Grantsville (9-4-1) round out the top-five in the classification, and each of those squads has a chance to make some noise.
Waterford and Rowland Hall. Rowland Hall and Waterford. Any way you slice it, 2A is the story of two teams, the Winged Lions and the Ravens.
The Ravens (11-1-2) are the defending champs, having defeated Rowland Hall in the 2016 state championship. The Winged Lions (13-0-0) are the current region champions (2A North), having defeated Waterford earlier this season, and 2017 looks to be their year.
“This year is really a perfect storm for us,” said Rowland Hall head coach Bobby Kennedy. “We have a veteran team (nine seniors) and the classification is weaker. It has honestly been a unique challenge this season to keep the kids motivated. We are excited for the playoffs, though.”
Whatever Kennedy has done this year has worked as the Winged Lions have obliterated any and all challengers. Rowland Hall has allowed all of two scores this season while netting 126 goals.
“We have a deep and balanced team, and our technical ability sets us apart,” said Kennedy.
The only team that seems to stand a chance against Rowland Hall is Waterford, and even that looks unlikely.
After all, Rowland Hall crushed the Ravens 7-1 in their only match so far this season.
“We know Waterford. We know Millard,” said Kennedy. “The biggest challenge for us will be to show up with the right level of intensity.
Of course, anything can happen in high school soccer, which gives teams like Waterford, Millard and Parowan a chance, however slim that may be.