SALT LAKE CITY — The Desert Hills Thunder weren’t supposed to win the state championship a year ago.
As the No. 3 seed out of Region 9, the Thunder had to go on the road in back-to-back playoff games, against Mountain View and Logan, in order to advance to the semifinals, a game which pitted them against the rival Dixie Flyers.
Not only did they win those road games, though, they defeated the Flyers and ultimately Park City for the 4A state title.
This time around, the journey shouldn’t be so difficult.
The Thunder (14-2-1, 11-1-0) tied with Dixie (11-1-1, 11-1-0) at the top of Region 9 this season and earned the No. 1 seed.
That finish, coupled with the best scoring offense in the classification (57 goals scored) — junior Ben Simister is 4A’s top goal scorer with 20 goals this year — and the second-best scoring defense (10 goals allowed) makes Desert Hills arguably the favorite to take home the 4A state title.
“I’d rather be the humble team and see what happens, because you never know what is going to happen in the state tournament, but I have a talented team,” Thunder head coach Benji Nelson said. “If this team shows up and plays good defense, if our team shows up and works hard, we can definitely win it.”
Nelson applied that sentiment to Dixie as well, seeing as the teams share players from a club team that claimed the national championship only a season ago.
“Either team can definitely win it,” said Nelson. “It is all about good defense. If you play defense the offense will come.”
The Flyers boast the best scoring defense in the classification, having allowed only nine goals all year and, with 47 goals scored, have found the back of the net more than any team save Desert Hills.
Oscar Quintero led Dixie with 11 goals scored, while goalkeeper Jacob Larkin (6) trails only Desert Hills’ Preston Hodges (11) in shutouts this season.
Outside of Region 9, the top title contender is Mountain View (10-3-0, 10-1-0).1 comment on this story
The Bruins ran afoul of the Thunder early in the postseason last year, but with the Region 10 title in hand this time around they are optimistic.
“Our team is playing extremely well,” Mountain View head coach Cade Jolley said. “We have found our groove, the right rhythm. We know what works and what doesn’t. Our last two games we’ve even been able to rest players for the tournament. We are feeling good.”
In addition to Mountain View, No. 2-seeded Salem Hills (11-4-2, 9-3-0) and Region 12 champion Sky View (8-2-4, 7-1-2) qualify as contenders, with teams like Orem (11-4-1, 8-3-0) and Logan (8-3-2, 7-2-1) threats as well.