SALT LAKE CITY — Over the last couple of years, teams without a winning tradition have made significant headway in the state’s 6A soccer scene.
Last year’s state champs — the Pleasant Grove Vikings — won the first title in school history, not to mention the team’s first region title in nearly 30 years.
The Herriman Mustangs — 5A and 6A runners-up in each of the last two seasons — have only had a program since 2011, but that didn’t stop them from going a combined 34-2-3 in 2017 and 2018.
Even the Layton Lancers, who’ve been around since well before boys soccer was first sanctioned by the UHSAA, bucked their historic lack of statewide success and won the 2017 state championship, only the second title in program history.
It has been, in essence, a new era for boys soccer in the state’s largest classification.
Heading into the state tournament, however — which kicks off Tuesday afternoon — a traditional power is on the rise.
That would be the Davis Darts.
With four state titles in program history, the most recent coming in 2010 and 2012, Davis is the traditional power in the 6A ranks (Bountiful, Alta, Brighton and Woods Cross all have more championships than the Darts, but all are 5A schools).
Ranked No. 1 in the classification, the Darts stand as the tournament favorite, alongside the No. 2-ranked Lancers and the No. 3-ranked Vikings.
Davis finished the regular season with an 11-1-3 record and took home the Region 1 title, the program’s first region championship since 2016.
“It is fantastic for us,” head coach Souli Phongsavath said. “We are pretty young with a lot of new guys playing varsity. Hopefully this can propel us, with confidence, going forward.”
Keying the Darts’ resurgent season has been the state’s premiere defense.
“Our strength is our defense. That is what we focus in on,” said Phongsavath.
Davis has allowed only four goals all year, no more than one in a single contest.
The Darts have won eight games in a row and 11 of their last 12, with shutouts in all but three.
“It has been somewhat of a surprise, but it has been a pleasant surprise,” Phongsavath said. “We have a great goalkeeper (Noah Larkin). He is one of the best goalkeepers in the state and he has come up with some big saves at big moments.”
Larkin has 11 shutouts this season, the most in 6A and second-most statewide.
He isn’t alone on defense, as the Darts back line has played particularly well.
“We put in some kids who didn’t necessarily have a lot of experience at the varsity level, playing on the back line, but they bought into it, have worked hard and they know they have a guy in the back who will cover for them if they make mistakes.” said Phongsavath.
While Davis has the tradition, Layton and Pleasant Grove are both recent state champs and legitimate title contenders.
The Lancers finished second in Region 1 with a 12-3-1 record, and lost only one game all year to a team not from Kaysville, a 3-1 setback at Weber.
Layton boasts one of the best goal scorers in 6A in Eli Nixon (13 goals), as well as a stout back line.
“This team is hungry to make it deep into the playoffs,” Layton head coach Rick Talamantez said.
The Vikings (13-3-1), meanwhile, claimed the Region 4 title for the second year in a row, and thanks in part to Talmage Woodhouse (classification-best 17 goals) and reigning 6A MVP Carson Ecalono (nine goals and 14 assists), boast one of the best attacks in the state.1 comment on this story
The highest-scoring team in 6A is the Copper Hills Grizzlies (12-4-0), who as Region 3 champions also warrant a place among the title contenders.
Additionally, Bingham, Herriman and Weber have all proven themselves capable of beating the best in the state at any moment this season, which should make for an unpredictable tournament.
“Anything can happen in soccer,” Pleasant Grove head coach Chris Ecalono said. “There seems to always be a No. 1 seed that goes down. You just try not to be that one.”