SANDY — If there was one thing the Snow Canyon Warriors didn’t want to happen in their 4A state title matchup against the Orem Tigers, aside from a loss, of course, it was for the game to go to penalty kicks.
Penalty kicks famously ended the Warriors’ title hopes a season ago — Bonneville advanced to the state championship game in 2017 after winning a shootout against Snow Canyon — just as they’d done in the 2014 state tournament.
“We hate PKs,” Snow Canyon junior Heidi Smith said. “We practice them after every practice, but no one wants to lose on a PK shootout. We didn’t want to go through that again.”
With time ticking away in the first of two potential overtime periods Saturday afternoon at Rio Tinto Stadium, an overtime that followed 80 minutes of scoreless soccer, it seemed as though the Warriors and Tigers were destined for PKs.
Snow Canyon had other plans, however.
With five minutes left in overtime, junior Rachel Durante found Smith in the box, and the Warriors’ leading goal scorer (22 goals this season) made good on the opportunity.
She drilled the ball into the back of the net, and with that, the Warriors were state champions.
“We didn’t want to go through PKs,” Smith said. “That was definitely motivation.”
With the score, Snow Canyon defeated Orem 1-0, to win the first state title in six years for the program.
Video replay of the game
“It’s a good feeling,” Snow Canyon head coach Kenneth Kunde said. “It has been six years since our last one. It is very satisfying.”
“We (Snow Canyon) have been here four years in a row,” added Smith. “We worked our butts off this whole year, and this is all we have been working for. It finally happened. It is everything that I wanted for this team, and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to make it happen.”
It was an emotional victory for the Warriors — Kunde and Smith both fought back tears and they weren’t alone — in large part due to a large cadre of Snow Canyon seniors that had at long last prevailed after years of postseason disappointment.
“This group of seniors have worked really hard for this,” Kunde said. “They finally broke through, after four semifinals, and to finally win this one, I’m going to cry.”
“I started here as a freshman, and I have been with these seniors for three years now,” added Smith. They are sisters to me, family. We have a special bond I can’t explain. I’m going to cry. Winning this is not for our own pride, it is for the whole team. It is for our seniors.”
Juniors proved the difference for Snow Canyon throughout the contest, however, goalkeeper Megan Rodgers for one.
Rodgers was a vital cog in the Warriors’ shutout, and her diving save on a shot attempt by Orem’s Cathy Nuckolls in the first half was one of the plays of the game. No save was bigger, however, for Rodgers or the Warriors, than a stab she made on an Orem shot late in the second half.
With three minutes remaining in regulation, Orem forward Taye Raymond had a chance to give the Tigers the victory, but her shot, after the slightest of touches by Rodgers, clanked harmlessly off the crossbar.
“Hats off to Megan,” Smith said. “She stretched for that one. I literally almost … it was a major relief. That was it. That was the game.”
It was Durante and Smith who would, in fact, decide the game, on a sequence Snow Canyon waited for all contest long.
“Our team has practiced those crosses every day. That is where we score at our best,” Smith said. “Rachel was taking that ball down, and I could just see that open up. We did exactly what we have practiced, over and over again. It just had to happen that way.
“Rachel played the perfect ball to me. It was a relief, all that practice all that hard work finally paid off.”
Kunde praised his juniors, but for him and his team, the state championship came down to the seniors.
“The juniors are the ones that put all the stuff in, but without those seniors, this group doesn’t get this,” Kunde said. “That senior group has been great leaders, good mentors for these younger kids. When you talk about program building, that is the kind of stuff that we want to do.
“That is how we want to build, and I think our senior class did that this year.”