I am really proud of our girls; they came to play. They played with a lot of heart. They responded to the challenge today. —Souli Phongsavath
WEST JORDAN — When Davis freshman Belle Mark stepped up to attempt a free kick with just over 20 minutes remaining in Tuesday’s contest between the Darts and the Copper Hills Grizzlies, there wasn’t much reason for the Grizzlies to fear. Mark was well outside the box, plus Copper Hills had goalie McCaslin Davis, she of seven shutouts this season, patrolling the net.
Not only that, the girls from Kaysville had proved, all afternoon, to be less than reliable when it came to taking shots (the Darts had missed the goal entirely on six of their nine shots attempts up to that point).
It seemed all but certain that the free kick would be a routine set piece, and that the Darts and Grizzlies would quickly resume what to that point had been a scoreless game.
Davis’ Lex Hibler had other ideas.
The senior forward corralled the free kick, after it rebounded off the Copper Hills keeper, and deftly placed it into the back of the net, giving Davis the lead.
A few minutes later, the Darts netted a second goal, courtesy of a nearly perfect shot into the top left corner of the goal by Alexa Maple.
Just like that, the state title defense had begun, as Davis (9-5-2) claimed a 2-0 victory.
“I am really proud of our girls; they came to play,” said Davis head coach Souli Phongsavath. “They played with a lot of heart. They responded to the challenge today.”
It certainly has been a challenge this season for the Darts. After winning back-to-back-to-back state championships, from 2014-2016, the normally dominant team just eked their way into the postseason, as a four seed out of Region 1. Their reward for that achievement was the challenge of a first round game at Copper Hills High School, against the Region 3 champion Grizzlies (13-2-2).
And yet, Davis was hardly phased by their opponent.
“We have been in every game we’ve lost this year,” said Phongsavath. “We only lost by one goal in every game. Those (five) games could have gone either way. We have a really good team.”
It didn’t exactly look that way early on.
Less than two minutes into the game, Copper Hills had a shot on goal. Sammy Rollins missed that kick and had another attempt silenced by Davis keeper Halle Moffat less than a minute later, but the message was clear, the Grizzlies were on the attack.
At no time was that more evident than when, midway through the half, Copper Hills got the ball to the feet of their premier attacker, Nikki Oliver. The forward cut through the Davis defense, ultimately getting into a one-on-one battle with Moffat. The Davis keeper made a brilliant save only to have the ball rebound to Copper Hills forward Katrina Estrada. Her volley proved harmless, however, sailing well over the crossbar.
After that, Davis began to turn the tide, with forwards Maddie McLeod and Maple each attempting a shot before the halftime whistle blew.
The second half brought with it more of the same, as the Darts couldn’t seem to find the back of the net. Zoe Jacobs and Maple each had two shots on goal in the opening minutes of the period.
“I thought it was unfortunate that we didn’t come away with any goals in the first half,” said Phongsavath. “I was worried (those misses) would come back to haunt us.”
Thanks to Hibler and Maple, they didn’t.
“I just ran up and hit it,” said Hibler said of her score. “It was as simple as that.”
The senior notably sported the words “Survive and Advance” on her arm, the team’s motto for the playoffs.
“Survive and Advance,” said Hibler. “That’s what we have to do. They are going to have to take (the title) away from us. We aren’t going to give it up.”
Phongsavath echoed the words of his senior, saying “Somebody is going to have to knock us off. Hopefully, we can keep advancing.”
So far, so good for the defending champs.
Up next for the Darts is a quarterfinal matchup with the Bingham Miners, set to be played in South Jordan Thursday at 4 p.m.