WEST VALLEY CITY — Heading into the season, American Preparatory Academy – West Valley head coach Quintin Nethercott knew his team was young.
“We have a young team this year, composed of mostly freshmen and sophomores,” Nethercott told the Deseret News in the preseason.
Those pains were readily apparent early in the year, as APA West Valley lost five of its initial eight contests, some by significant margins.
And yet, as the year wore on the youthful Eagles began to find their bearings, led by their experienced midfield.
The team won five of its final eight regular season games and was competitive in each of its three losses, including a defeat at the hands of perennial title contender Rowland Hall.
“The midfield is where the leadership of our team comes from and they have been the strength of our team all year,” said Nethercott. “Those players through the center-mid have been great for us.”
They certainly were great Wednesday afternoon at Centennial Park in West Valley City.
Banza and Mendoza each finished with two goals, as did teammate Adrian Dominguez (Mendoza had an assist as well, on Dominguez’s first breakthrough).
Goalkeeper Mario Mejia posted the shutout in goal, in what should be considered one of the Eagles most complete victories of the season.
“We played our game,” said Nethercott. “We were focused on how we were playing and were committed to controlling the ball. We saw today that as long as we do that, we can do great things this postseason.”
Making the win all more the impressive, aside from it being the first playoff victory in school history — APA West Valley lost in the first round in 2016 to Layton Christian and fell to American Leadership Academy in the same round last year — was that the Eagles dominated in less than ideal soccer conditions.
It rained for over an hour of gameplay Wednesday, not to mention at least half an hour prior to kick off.
As a result, the field was slick and unforgiving.
Even so, the hosts were on top of their game.
Within the opening 10 minutes of the contest, the Eagles attempted upwards of six shots. 10 minutes later, they had added another six shots to their total, most of which were on goal.
If not for a stellar first half by Wendover goalie Ignacio Del Muro, APA West Valley may have led 6-0 at the break.
As it was, the Eagles took a 2-0 lead into halftime, thanks to Banza's goal over Del Muro’s outstretched fingers, as well as a score by Mendoza in the waning minutes of the opening period.
The second half saw the floodgates open for APA West Valley, much to the dismay of the Wildcats.
Banza got the scoring started again, with his second goal of the day, after which Mendoza and Dominguez went to work, carving up the Wildcats defense.
Tensions boiled over a little midway through the half, Banza was awarded a yellow card, as Wendover’s Adolfo Perez and Keyshawn Rodriguez attempted to will their side back into the contest.
It was too little too late, however, as the Wildcats could not beat Mejia.
“This win is a huge confidence boost,” Nethercott said. "We have a very, very young team this season, so for them to get this experience ... I think it just helps build our program. We are going to build off of this win, this confidence boost, and we look forward to Saturday.”
On Saturday, the Eagles will travel south and face the No. 1-seeded Beaver Beavers in the quarterfinals of the 2A state tournament. Beaver defeated Wasatch Academy 3-1 Wednesday afternoon.