We just tried to play as a team, as a unit. We played Alta ball. —Alta coach Lee Mitchell
SANDY — Standing on the west-facing sideline of the soccer field at Alta High School Wednesday afternoon were two of the winningest soccer coaches in Utah high school history — Alta’s Lee Mitchell and Wasatch’s Dawain Wheatley.
With over 60 years of coaching experience between them, Mitchell and Wheatley have successfully directed the Hawks and Wasps boys soccer programs for decades, to the tune of 600-plus combined victories, not to mention nine state championships.
Wednesday provided the opportunity for the coaches and, more importantly, their teams, to earn yet another victory.
More than just another victory, however, a win Wednesday, in the first round of the 5A state tournament, would be the start of a much hoped for championship run.
There were other motivations to be sure, meaningful ones at that — a Wasatch victory would prolong Wheatley’s coaching career for at least another game (this season was and is to be the headman’s final run) — but for both teams, Wednesday was about the start of a run to the state championship.
Led by junior midfielder Ethan Bell's two goals, as well as a stout defense, the Hawks kept their state championship hopes alive with a 2-0 victory over Wasatch.
The win secured Alta a berth in the 5A quarterfinals, where they will host the No. 4-seeded East Leopards.
“We just tried to play as a team, as a unit,” said Mitchell. “We played Alta ball.”
“We wanted to live up to what everyone thinks of Alta,” Bell added. “We wanted to come out and show that we are here for a reason and we will not back down.”
At no point in the contest did it seem that the hosts would back down, rather they were the aggressors from the outset.
In fact, it took only four minutes for the Hawks to muster their first goal of the postseason.
That score came courtesy of a Bell header, on a nearly flawless cross by Jack Anderson.
Bell added his second goal, another header, 20 minutes later, when he was once again the recipient of a cross into the box, this time by Christian Simmons.
“I think we came out with the mentality to get into the box, get chances for ourselves,” said Bell. “I think that was just the biggest reason for the goals. It was hunger.”
“I was expecting that from (Ethan) the whole season,” Mitchell said. “It was kind of nice to see him finally break out a little bit.”
While neither team was able to find the back of the net the rest of the contest, it was not for a lack of trying.
As for the Wasps, they attacked almost non-stop for the entire 80 minutes.
“You have to play for 80 minutes against them,” said Mitchell. “Wasatch goes a hundred miles an hour from beginning to end.”
Harrison Cheal, Carlos Vargas, Dax Holmes, Jaxon Bridge, Matthias Dunn and Andrew Smoot were among the Wasps who tried to put the ball in the goal, but each and every time they were turned away, either by Alta keeper Traven England or by a stout Hawks backline.
“The biggest thing back there was communication,” Bell said of the Hawks’ success on defense. “Talking a lot, staying connected. Just staying in touch with the midfield and getting us back.”
Wasatch thought it finally had a breakthrough in the 75th minute when the ball emerged out of a scrum of players and crossed the end line.
It was ruled to not be a goal, however, and minutes later the contest was over and the Hawks were headed to the quarterfinals.
“We’ll get confidence from this win,” said Bell, “especially in a big situation like the playoffs. We know we can work together and get the job done.”
“We played Alta ball,” said Mitchell.
Per the usual, Alta ball meant a playoff victory.