It felt great. They’ve worked all year for this. These girls have a slogan, 'Work today for tomorrow.' Today is that tomorrow. —Jeff Lewis
DRAPER — A keen observer at the 5A semifinal contest between the Maple Mountain Golden Eagles and the East Leopards, held Tuesday afternoon at Juan Diego High School, may have noticed something interesting about the Golden Eagles. Each and every member of that girls soccer team wore a blue band in her hair.
The reason? Defensive back Gracie Knutzen.
Knutzen had been the Golden Eagles' best defender this season and figured to play a vital role in the much hoped for championship run. Unfortunately for her and her team, she went down with a torn ACL last week.
The Maple Mountain girls honored their top defender Tuesday, with said blue bands, a show of her importance to the team. Of course, they honored her even more with their play on the field.
Led by goalkeeper Kayla Thompson, whom Maple Mountain head coach Jeff Lewis called, “the player of the match today,” the Golden Eagles played the Leopards to a 0-0 draw, before advancing to the 5A state championships thanks to a 4-3 edge on penalty kicks.
“It felt great. They’ve worked all year for this,” said Lewis. “These girls have a slogan, ‘Work today for tomorrow.’ Today is that tomorrow.”
Lewis continued, noting “I feel like these girls haven’t gotten attention for what they have done all year. They have believed and fought for this.”
They certainly had to fight to get past the Leopards. Rudy Schenk’s club, the 4A runners-up in 2016, were one of the hottest teams in 5A heading into the match. Case in point, East had soundly defeated the top-seeded Corner Canyon Chargers 4-1 in the quarterfinals.
Truth be told, the Leopards consistently looked the better team in this contest, especially in regulation.
“Give credit to East,” said Lewis. “They fought hard. They worked their tails off all game. Give kudos to them.”
The Leopards dominated for much of regulation, regularly creating prime scoring opportunities. They took more than twice as many shots as Maple Mountain, headlined by Emily Jensen.
The forward had four particularly notable scoring chances, two in regulation and two in overtime, but each time she was unable to find the back of the net.
Her final scoring chance, with just under a minute remaining in overtime, seemed destined to go in, but Thompson made an incredible diving save to squash the chance.
“You can’t say enough about Kayla,” said Lewis. “She is full of confidence. Kayla works all the time, two or three extra trainings each week. You saw that training pay off today. She was the player of the match today.”
At no point was that more evident than during penalty kicks.
The Leopards and Golden Eagles went back and forth in the penalty kick portion of the contest, fitting after the 100 previous minutes.
Both teams whiffed on their first shots on goal, due to excellent saves by Thompson and East keeper Katie Liljenquist.
Four consecutive misses followed, with both Thompson and Liljenquist recording a save.
Tied at two goals after five penalty kicks apiece, the teams turned to additional five players.
It was there that Thompson shone. The keeper read the play perfectly and silenced the shot attempt, sending the Golden Eagles to Rio Tinto.
“PKs are stressful, but I had no doubt my team would win,” said Thompson. “It was so crazy to make that save. It was such an exciting moment. I don’t even know how to explain it. I just thought, ‘holy cow, we just won this game’,”.
The reason was clear to Lewis, “These girls have heart. They just kept fighting until the very end.”
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