It is a dream come true. It really is so fun to be able to win it with such a great team and a coach that believed in us all season. —American Fork's Jamie Shepherd
SANDY — Trailing the Syracuse Titans by a goal at halftime of the 6A state championship game, held at Rio Tinto Stadium, the American Fork Cavemen could have buckled under the pressure. After all, it was an accomplishment in and of itself to make it to the state title game, something that head coach Derek Dunn said “had never happened in school history.”
That wasn’t the American Fork way, however, and hadn’t been all season. The young Cavemen made a living out of overcoming deficits all year en route to their classification-best 20 wins and Saturday afternoon was no different.
Sisters Jamie and Josie Shepherd each netted a second-half goal, as did junior Addi Holmstead and American Fork rallied to defeat the Titans 3-1.
“This is the first time we have done this,” said Dunn. “Last year we took region the first time, this year we took region again and reached our first state championship game. To win (the state title) is amazing.”
“(Winning the state title) means everything,” Jamie Shepherd said after holding the championship trophy aloft with her teammates. “It is a dream come true. It really is so fun to be able to win it with such a great team and a coach that believed in us all season.”
“It is just the best feeling ever,” added Holmstead. “It is indescribable. Since we’ve been down before I knew, and everyone else knew, we could come back. We wanted this more than anyone could want it.”
The Cavemen may have overcome more than their fair share of deficits this season, but perhaps none was more daunting than this one.
Syracuse came into the contest riding high after their 4-1 beatdown of the Bingham Miners in the semifinals. The Titans also boasted two of the premier goal scorers in 6A in Caroline Stringfellow and Ashlyn Hall.
It was Stringfellow in fact who netted the game’s opening goal, midway through the first half.
The freshman headed a Sarah Wynn corner kick toward the top right corner of the goal. American Fork keeper Haven Empey made a terrific saving effort, only to have the ball deflect off her hands into the back of the net.
The Titans took the one-goal advantage into the break, seemingly well on their way to the state championship.
It was not to be, as the Cavemen came roaring out of halftime. Within three minutes, freshman Josie Shepherd had knotted the game at one goal apiece.
Ten minutes later, her sister Jamie found the back of the net, on a nearly perfect cross from Rachel McCarthy.
“Rachel just took it down the sideline and slotted it back. I told Addie (who was in front of Shepherd in the box) to leave it. I was right in front of the goal. I was set up and it was just one tap, one touch, and it was in.”
Holmstead added her goal, the ultimate insurance score, with just 11 over minutes remaining. She beat Syracuse defender Kelsey Steed, one-on-one on the right wing and then snuck the ball past Titan goalkeeper Gabby Segura.
“Everyone asks ‘What does a coach say at halftime’,” said Dunn. “It is not what a coach says but what your team does. They did it. They said it. They said we are doing it. They said we are fine and we can get this. It was the girls who told one another to keep doing what we are doing and we will get the title.”
“We just wanted it so bad,” added Holmstead.
After 80 minutes at Rio Tinto it was clear the Cavemen wanted it the most and now they're the first ever 6A state champions.