ST. GEORGE — Sometimes a player just has to go with what feels right.
Sarah Henderson saw the wall of girls standing between her and the goal. She also saw Juan Diego’s goalie drifting left, looking to keep Snow Canyon’s forwards from making a move. Typically a soccer player would attempt a high kick over the wall and hope for the best. But during Snow Canyon’s 1-0 win over Juan Diego in the 3A Quarterfinals Saturday afternoon, Henderson’s instincts took over.
She shifted her kick so that the ball stayed low and to the right of the defense and in so doing scored the game’s lone goal with less than 15 minutes remaining in the contest.
“I don’t really know what happened,” Henderson said. “It was all about instinct. I know that it’s a lot harder for a keeper to save a ball on the ground. And it’s easier for a wall to stop a high ball than a low ball. So that’s where I put it.”
From that point on Snow Canyon’s defense, headed by Jadyn Losee and goalkeeper Grace Walton, took the reins and battled off an intense Juan Diego attack.
“All practice we’ve been working hard,” Losee said. “We knew their forwards were top in state, so we’ve been practicing on staying on those guys.”
Walton, who had eight shutouts during the regular season, stepped up and made big plays down the stretch for the Warriors.
“I just owe it all to my defense,” she said. “They did awesome. Everyone really wanted it and played hard. This was our dream and something that we’ve wanted forever. This has been our number one goal since we were six or seven. I’m so proud of our whole team.”
The game was a fierce demonstration of skill from the get-go as the two teams battled to a halftime stalemate. Snow Canyon had several shots on the goal, but couldn’t penetrate goalkeeper Melanie Mecham’s tough defense.
“We had a few chances that we let slip away,” Warriors coach Ken Kunde said. “We just kept reinforcing (to our girls) at halftime to keep doing what you’re doing and one of them is going to go in. Keep up the pressure. That goalie made some great saves, otherwise we could’ve had more (goals).”
In the second half, Callie Stewart picked up her offensive ferocity. The speedy athlete found Meghan McKenna racing up midfield and sent a beautiful cross her way, but Juan Diego’s defense was there to block the shot attempt.
Later, with fatigue taking its toll on both sides, Stewart had another shot blocked by Mecham, who journeyed several feet from the box to make the stop.
By that point, it was clear the Warriors held the game’s momentum. Kunde’s players were advancing past the defense, but couldn’t finish.
Then, with 15 minutes to go in the game, Henderson was called on to take an opportune 10-yard penalty kick.
“We were deciding on the sideline who we wanted to take that kick and we just thought, ‘Give it to Sara, she’s due,’” Kunde said. “She had trouble with some penalty kicks in region during the regular season and we just thought we would give it to her. What a kick.”
Indeed, when Henderson’s shot hit the back of the net, the Warriors exploded with exultant cheers.
But the game wasn’t over. Snow Canyon still had to ward off Juan Diego for 15 more minutes. It was no easy task considering the Soaring Eagles listed amongst the highest scoring teams in state this season.
Cue Walton, who spent the remaining minutes diving left and right, blocking shots with athletic poise and precision.
“We just decided we were going to win the ball game,” she said. “We just decided to win it. We didn’t want to lose our last game at our home.”
As the final seconds clicked off, the Snow Canyon home crowd was in a rollicking frenzy.
Said Henderson: “There’s a quote that asks, ‘Do you want success as much as you want to breath?’ That’s what we wanted today – we wanted to succeed more than we wanted to breathe.”
Elsewhere in Region 9, Dixie’s terrific end-of-season surge came to a halt on Saturday when the Flyers were ousted 3-0 by Park City.
Cedar likewise lost to defending 3A champions Ogden 2-0, leaving the Warriors as Region 9′s sole representative in the state semifinals next week at Jordan High School.
The Warriors will battle Wasatch High in the first semi Friday at 11 a.m. at JHS. Park City and Ogden will follow at 1:15 p.m. The winners will then square off for the state title Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy.
Copyright 2012 St. George News.