SALT LAKE CITY — Through eight games this season, Murray head coach Brady Smith had seen glimpses of what a complete game by his Spartans might look like.
The Spartans had had halves where they’d played nearly perfect soccer, notably in convincing wins over Jordan, Taylorsville, East and West, among others. What they hadn’t done yet was put together a complete game.
Even so, their play had led Murray to an excellent record (7-1 overall, 3-0 in region) heading into the showdown with the Skyline Eagles Tuesday afternoon at Skyline High School.
The Eagles, for their part, hadn’t exactly struggled this year either.
Skyline had reeled off three straight victories, six overall, with the only losses coming against the defending champion Maple Mountain Golden Eagles and the top-ranked Corner Canyon Chargers.
Making the Eagles' success all the more impressive? Those recent back-to-back-to-back wins had come without star forward Cassidy Orr, who is out indefinitely with a broken tibia. The question remained as to whether the Eagles could continue to find success without the 5A classification's leading goal scorer from a season ago.
All that meant Tuesday’s Region 6 showdown between the Spartans and the Eagles promised to be a good one, with season-defining questions potentially answered on both sides.
At the end of 80 minutes, one question was definitively answered — Smith finally knew what a complete performance by the Spartans looked like.
Led by freshman Sammie Sofonia, Murray soundly defeated Skyline 4-1.
Sofonia finished with a hat trick, while junior Sydney Wilcken added another goal for the Spartans in what has to be considered their best game of the season.
“That was a complete game for us,” Smith said. “This team has put together complete halves this year, but to do it for 80 minutes was a special thing to see. The trust they showed and the ability to connect at all three levels was impressive. It was a lot of fun.”
The fun happened almost immediately, although a breakthrough goal didn’t come for the Spartans until midway through the first half.
In fact, it was the Eagles who appeared to net the game-opening goal. Just five minutes in, Skyline junior Amy Jensen drilled a ball right at the top left corner of the net. If not for a last-second punch by Murray keeper Alexis Bates, the ball would have gone in and the Eagles would have taken the lead.
Instead, Skyline came away goalless.
Twenty minutes later, the Spartans netted their first goal, courtesy of Sofonia. The forward won a foot race for the ball and then deftly placed the ball into the back of the net, beating Skyline goalie Lucy Peterson.
It was the first of many scores on the day for the freshman and evidence of some dramatic growth as a player.
“Sammie has grown every game,” Smith said. “If you could have seen her at the start of the season to right now, it is two completely different players.
“She has the ability with her decision-making and striking with the ball to take over games, and I think you saw that in the second half.”
Sofonia netted two additional goals in the second half — Murray took a 1-0 lead into halftime — thanks in large part to the well-timed passing of senior Abbi Graham.
“You saw Abbi posting up and then feeding the ball to our outside forwards and that is tough to defend,” said Smith. “When you have speed on the outside that gets it, that makes good decisions in front of goal, that is a special thing.”
Wilcken was also a beneficiary of Graham’s vision, and her goal, a chip shot over Peterson, sealed the win in the final moments.
Skyline’s Sydney Groeb managed to find the back of the net prior to Wilcken’s score, but it was too little too late for the Eagles.
“This win feels special,” said Smith. “Skyline is an incredible program. That is the first thing that needs to be said. Skyline is a good team.
“They have had our number for the last three years. Those games always came down to not making mistakes and converting up top. We did those two things today. We put together two complete halves. It definitely feels good.”