DRAPER — Early in April, the defending 3A state champion Judge Memorial Bulldogs didn’t exactly look like themselves.
They dropped three consecutive games, including region losses to Summit Academy and Morgan, which a season before would have been unheard of.
The struggles — for the Bulldogs they were struggles — were due to a combination of things, including injuries and a general lack of motivation.
“We had some injuries in the regular season,” Bulldogs head coach Kelly Terrill said. “The intensity also hasn’t been as high. We’d already done it (won a state title), so the desire hasn’t always been there. It can be really hard to have that desire all season.
“We went through that slide, but we knew there wasn’t a black cloud hanging over the team. We just had to pick it up.”
Pick it up they have in the state tournament, a run that continued Thursday afternoon at Juan Diego High School.
Judge Memorial handily defeated American Leadership Academy 5-2 Thursday in the 3A semifinals, earning the program’s second consecutive state title game berth.
Jack Terrill netted a brace to lead the Bulldogs in the win, while Joe Paul and Dominic Arias each added a goal of their own. The fifth Judge score came courtesy of an ALA own goal.
“We came out cocky this year, and lost three games in a row,” Jack Terrill said. “After we lost those games we woke up and have come out strong. I know some people were doubting us, but we knew we had it in us and we were motivated the entire time today.”
That was evident against the Eagles, even after some initial struggles.
“They tried too hard to get the ball in,” coach Terrill said.
After a Paul offering into the box was accidentally kicked into the back of the net, however — in the seventh minute — the Bulldogs began to look like their dominant selves.
Terrill netted a score just before the close of the first half, and moments into the second he added another.
Paul then pocketed his score, as the floodgates opened for Judge, whose lead grew to as many as four goals.
ALA senior Joseph Valle — the state’s leading goal scorer — tried to keep the Eagles in it, and scored two goals as a result, but the game belonged to the Bulldogs.
“We were motivated today,” said Jack Terrill. “We really want to go to Rio Tinto (the site of the state championship). We’ve wanted it the whole year.”
In the earlier semifinal game, meanwhile, it was the Summit Academy Bears who secured a berth in the state championship game.
Summit Academy defeated South Summit 1-0, in the third matchup of the season between the Region 13 foes.
The win secured the Bears their first state finals appearance in the seven-year history of the program.
“It is the first time ever that our soccer team has been to the finals,” Summit Academy junior Omar Khan said. “It is crazy to lead my team, to be with my brothers out there and take us to the finals.”
Khan netted the game’s only goal midway through the second half, after the teams battled through a scoreless opening frame.
His score — a 25-yard strike from just outside the right side of the box into the top left corner of the net — was somewhat unexpected, given the defensive nature of the contest, but not for Bears head coach Troy Stroud.
“He hits those all the time in practice. It was a matter of getting him open,” Stroud said. “We practice that area of the field all the time and these guys do a great job at practice.”
An adjustment in the Bears formation led to the game-winning breakthrough, as the team took advantage of the defensive tactics of the Wildcats.Comment on this story
“We noticed that there was space between our striker and our forward, so we switched our formation to two attacking mid’s,” Khan said. “Every time I got the ball I looked to play the ball out wide or through, but in that situation I took the shot. Normally I don’t take those, but I had a feeling.”
The goal and the victory were years in the making for Summit Academy.
“I can’t describe it. It is amazing,” said Stroud. “This is a special group of guys. They have been here since their freshman year and we have been on the downside of seasons. Now we are on the upside. It is a blessing.”
The Bulldogs and Bears will face off in the 3A state championship game Friday afternoon at 4 p.m., at Rio Tinto Stadium.