Two weeks after the start of the high school boys soccer season, this season, with a new 6A class, looks much like the previous year.
Defending champions Layton, Alta and Layton Christian Academy all stand as the title favorite in their respective classifications, although competition at the top of 6A and 5A should be fierce all season.
The 4A and 3A classes have been greatly altered with realignment, with Juan Diego and South Summit standing as the pre-eminent favorites to take state.
Here’s a closer look at each classification early in the season.
The 2017 state title run by the Layton Lancers was, for many, unexpected. The Lancers were one of the elite teams in the 5A classification heading into the playoffs, but championship favorites they were not.
Yet when all was said and done, the Lancers were state champs. They took down some excellent teams like the American Fork Cavemen, the Copper Hills Grizzlies and the Herriman Mustangs along the way, proving themselves the best side in the largest classification in the state.
Like any defending champion, they hope to repeat the feat this year, only this time in the newly formed 6A ranks.
“With hard work and a lot of determination, I think we will be able to contend,” Layton head coach Rick Talamantez said.
Despite losing some of their more influential players, such as the Deseret News’ Mr. Soccer Kayden Amano and goalkeeper and 5A MVP Sam Hunter, Layton entered the new season as one of the favorites in 6A, per high school coaches around the state.
Besides being the defending champ, Layton returns some elite talent.
“I’m very impressed with the talented players coming back and the new additions to our team,” said Talamantez.
Layton returns at least five players who contributed significantly last season, including forward Leo Urrutia, who is one of the team’s leading goal scorers early on, as well as midfielders Braden Young and Brendan Stansfield.
Add in expected contributions from defenders Christian Logan and Takum Hepworth, as well as players like Devon Ward and goalie Braeden Grow, and Layton is a real threat to hoist another state championship trophy.
The Lancers' victim in last year’s state title game, Herriman, stands as arguably the greatest threat to a Layton repeat.
Already 5-0 this season, the Mustangs bring back as much, if not more, talent than the Lancers. Headlining that group is goalkeeper JD Myers, who very well may be the best goalie in the state.
Myers, who was a first time All-State selection last season, already has two shutouts on the year, against Westlake and West Jordan.
He isn’t alone on the Mustangs, however.
Forward Hayden Christensen (five) and midfielder Carter Johnson (seven) have already combined to score 12 goals this season, with Kolton Johnson adding four more.
“My team returns several key players and should be very competitive,” Herriman head coach Ryan Mitchell said.
Other title contenders include the Bingham Miners, who along with the Cavemen are expected to battle for the top of Region 4, and the Davis Darts, who’ll test Layton in Region 1.
The task of defending their most recent state championship will be tall one for the Alta Hawks. They lost 10 seniors from their 2017 title squad, including 4A MVP Nick Lowrimore, and moved up a classification, which will inevitably pit them against some teams that they are less familiar with.
And yet there is a certain amount of faith offered for the Hawks under head coach Lee Mitchell.
His coaching peers in 5A voted Alta the title favorite this season, a testament to the program Mitchell has overseen.
The seven titles Alta has won under his direction, including three in the last 10 years, warrant that sort of respect.
It isn’t just respect for Mitchell that has the Hawks nominated as the favorite, however.
Alta returns more than a few contributors from last year's championship squad, including goal scorers Kenny Kocherscheidt and Jett Sollis, who combined to score 16 goals last season, and midfielders Josh Affleck, Jack Anderson and Ethan Bell.
“We graduated 10 seniors last year, but have some good returners,” said Mitchell.
It may take a while, Alta is currently 1-0-2 to start the season, but Mitchell believes his team has the potential to contend with the best in 5A.
“We should get better as the season goes along and we get used to each other,” said Mitchell.
Two teams that figure to be among the best teams in the classification are the Olympus Titans and Murray Spartans.
The rivals will certainly duke it out for the Region 6 title and figure to have a decided role in determining what happens in the state tournament.
If there is a favorite for the Region 6 title it is the Titans, who return five significant contributors in defenders James Dansie, Josh Gubler, midfielder Adam Naylor and wings Tony Foulger and Din Huremovic.
“We have team depth and if we come together, we could be a very good team this year,” said Olympus head coach Chris Sonntag. “We have speed and good skill, but need to work together.”
In Region 7, the Brighton Bengals will challenge Alta for supremacy. “We look to improve this year as the team transitions to a new coach and new style of play," said head coach Brett Rosen. "We will rely on our seniors to lead us through a challenging schedule.”
Wasatch stands at the top of Region 8 as one of the expected state title contenders, with an experienced midfield leading the way.
If there is a classification most affected by the latest phase of realignment, it might be 4A. Gone are all the semifinalists from last season. Gone are all but two quarterfinalists, Orem and Ogden. In fact, of the teams that qualified for the 4A state tournament last season, only three are still in 4A.
There are quite a few teams on the block, none of which figure to play a bigger role in the state title race than the Juan Diego Soaring Eagle.
The 3A runner-up last season, Juan Diego was picked as the early season title favorite in 4A for good reason. The Soaring Eagle return considerable talent from last year’s team, including seniors Jered Mariani and Alex Saunders. Aside from Mariani and Saunders, players like Andrew Carabajal and Gustavo Flores, among others, have already made their presence known in the early moments of the season.
New head coach Daniel Cavar may have said it best. “The team looks very sharp with tons of universal players that can play multiple positions. I look forward to a great and competitive season.”
As of now, the Dixie Flyers appear to have as good a chance as Juan Diego of taking home hardware at the end of the season. The Flyers are 3-0 to start the year, having defeated their competition 17-0.
Returners Jose Morales and Trey Hoskins have been particularly effective, with a combined seven goals between them.
“It is going to be a fun year,” Dixie head coach Burt Myers said. “We have a lot of great kids, our leadership is outstanding this year. We have a lot of work to do but we have a bunch of kids who are excited to play and get better. We have more depth this year, and our team speed is better also.”
Dixie will be challenged in Region 9 by a Snow Canyon Warriors team that, according to head coach Mark Whittwer, “has a strong class of seniors ready to get their time and make their mark. We also have a number of young, up-and-coming players who are eager to become contributors at the varsity level. I anticipate a dogfight between the top three (teams) in our region.”
Other title contenders include Park City out of Region 11 and Region 12’s defending 3A state champion Ridgeline RiverHawks.
Much like the 4A classification, 3A is filled with new schools and new championship contenders.
At the front of the pack are the South Summit Wildcats, who have a 5-0 start for the season.
The Wildcats lost more than a few players from last year's 2A runner-up side, but have as talented of a team as any in the classification.
“We are very excited with the challenge of moving up to 3A,” South Summit head coach Chris Burton said. “After losing nine of my starters from last year, we can’t wait to see what we can do this year. We are young but very talented.”
Senior striker Cole Georgi has already gone on a tear this season, scoring a team-best 10 goals. With Georgi in the fold, along with seniors Marco Juarez and Tanner Harman, as well as sophomores Ethan Simmons and Joe Atkinson, the Wildcats stand as the pre-eminent title favorites.
Close behind South Summit, in terms being a favorite for the state title, are the Summit Academy Bears. Another former 2A school that relocated to 3A, the Bears return their share of talent in forwards Nathan Davis and Lincoln Augenstein, as well as midfielder Evan Smith and defender Nathan Davenport.
Summit Academy should challenge South Summit at the top of Region 13, according to head coach Troy Stroud.
“Moving up to 3A will be challenging for the team, but we have worked hard in the offseason," said Stroud. “We should compete well in our region this year.”
One of the few longer-standing 3A sides that should contend are the Morgan Trojans. Jared Anderson’s squad didn’t qualify for the postseason last year, but returns upwards of 10 contributors, including goalkeeper Trek Loveridge and midfielder Carson Flitton.
“We are very excited for the upcoming season,” said Anderson. “We have a large amount of upperclassmen returning and expect to compete very well with the other teams.”
Outside of Region 13, American Leadership Academy and Delta appear likely title contenders out of Region 14.
If there is a title favorite in the 2A classification, it is the defending champion Layton Christian Academy Eagles. Chris Tatro’s squad returns a wealth of talent from its title team and is already 5-0 to start the year, with a goal differential of 30.
The chief competition for the Eagles comes from Region 17, with both the Waterford Ravens and Rowland Hall Winged Lions hoping to prove up to the task of unseating the defending champs.
Rowland Hall returns five solid contributors, including goalie Jake Dreyfous, forward Trey Provost and midfielder Youssef Salama.
“We are hoping to have a solid regular season and make a playoff run,” said Winged Lions head coach Scott Langone. “We are very curious regarding the new classification and region, and look forward to meeting and playing some new opponents.”
Waterford, meanwhile, has a younger squad, with just two premiere returners in Tate Reynolds and Andrew McSlarrow.
“With a relatively young squad this year, we look forward to learning to playing together on the pitch and enjoying the beautiful game,” said head coach George Shirley. “We hope to be competitive throughout the region.”
Other title contenders include the Millard Eagles out of Region 18 and the Wasatch Academy Tigers.