ST. GEORGE – Four Region 9 soccer teams have battled their way into the playoffs and now have a clear view to the ultimate goal: State Championship.
Snow Canyon is going into the tournament as a one seed with Dixie, Desert Hills and Cedar trailing along with potential to make some noise throughout the tournament. The Warriors and Flyers host first-round games today.
Juan Diego, the two seed from Region 10, is the defending state champ, having beaten Snow Canyon in the title game last season. Previous to that, Dixie had won three of the last four state titles. Cedar has one state soccer title (1996), while Snow Canyon and Desert Hills are still looking for their first state championship in boys soccer.
Although Snow Canyon already avenged its loss to Juan Diego early in the season, losing to the Soaring Eagle in the championship last year still lingers with the Warriors. Since they were in the state title game last year, experience in the playoffs will be huge for the Warriors.
“Our boys have been there before, so they know what to expect and what it’s going to take,” SC head coach Marc Wittwer said. “They will be ready and give full effort.”
Snow Canyon has been led all season by captain Max Kemp, who has scored nine goals this season to lead the team. Defensively, keeper Quinn Hargis, a newly-signed Salt Lake Community College commit, has claimed 4 1/2 shutouts in the 16-game season. The Warriors have also held opponents to only five goals all season.
The Warriors only suffered two losses the entire season – to Copper Hills and Canyon View – but those were early on.
“Soccer is a cruel sport with low scoring,” Wittwer said. “The best team does not always win. Our focus will be to go out and play the best that we can and if that results in wins, fantastic. If not, we want to feel like we gave it everything we have and left it on the field. If we come out aggressively on
defense and maintain our composure when we control the ball, we will have a good chance of winning games.”
First up for the Warriors is a game against fourth-seeded Ben Lomond High School at Snow Canyon High School at 4 p.m. today.
“One game at a time. Right now, we are 100-percent focused on Ben Lomond, who is a quality team from Region 11 that recently beat Juan Diego,” Wittwer said.
Last year, Dixie made it to the semifinals before losing to the eventual champion Juan Diego.
Head coach Burt Myers thinks experience will be integral for the team’s success in the playoffs.
“I think the kids know what to expect,” Myers said. “Overall, it’s just soccer. But the game gets quicker and more physical. We’re playing against different regions and you don’t know if they’re strong or weak regions. It’s a new season. Everybody is zero and zero. It’s a brand new season.”
The Flyers have had their share of close games, which might give them an edge going into tough competition.
“I think having the knowledge that if we get down, we can come back, that’s a good thing,” Myers said. “We know we can come back. Overall, here on out, almost all the games, the two and three (seeded games) are going to be close, the one and four (seeded games) maybe not so close. Here on out they’re all good games.”
Dixie has been led by Jose “Tauri” Morales with nine goals this season, but has shared the ball well as 10 players have scored this year. Keeper Bridger Wright has accumulated 4 1/2 shutouts during the 16-game season.
First up for the Flyers is a rematch against Logan High School at Walt Brooks Stadium today at 4 p.m. Dixie won the first match against the Grizzlies this year, 5-2.
“We’ve just got to go out and play our best game,” Myers said. “We’ve got to go out there and do the things that have gotten us to here, not go out there and be somebody we’re not. Just do what we’ve done. This is a great time of year. It’s just fun. It’s for the kids to feel the intensity of the playoffs.”
Desert Hills started region play with five straight wins before meeting the Warriors, who gave the Thunder their first region loss. From there, the Thunder stayed strong and won four of the last six, but it just wasn’t quite enough to steal a higher seed.
It was only in the quarterfinals when Juan Diego beat Desert Hills last year. The Thunder look to avenge that loss immediately as the two teams face off in the first round.
Head coach Benji Nelson is confident in his team going into that game.
“I think this year, we are more athletic and a better team than we were last year,” Nelson said. “I think that we’re a better team as far as possessing. We’ve scored more goals than we did last year. When we’re playing our game, other teams are going to have a really hard time stopping us offensively.”
Nelson said team depth sets his squad apart from all the others.
“I think that we’ve got a deep bench, which will be very important because we’ve got several games we’re going to play that will be competitive,” Nelson said. “Almost every player on the team has the ability to score. I don’t feel like you can shut the team down by marking one or two guys.”
Desert Hills has a plethora of goal scorers on the team, as 12 players have found the back of the net throughout the season for a total of 32 goals. The team is led by Kelton Holt’s 11 goals. The Thunder defense has only allowed 13 goals all year and keeper Isaiah Hacker has recorded four shutouts.
The Thunder will have to do most, if not all, of the winning on the road as the Thunder play at Juan Diego Thursday at 4 p.m.
“I think of anybody, we have the toughest schedule going to Juan Diego and then going to Park City,” Nelson said. “We’ve got to be focused on what we’re doing, not get carried away with being on vacation and focus on each game. I feel confident this year in these first two away games that we can win them. (We’ll) stick to what we do best and we’ll come out victorious.”
Cedar struggled at the outset of the Region 9 season, but has won two of the last four games to earn the trip to the playoffs.
Head coach Scott Kamachi knows it will be an uphill battle for his team.
“It’s always tough being the four seed and getting wins,” Kamachi said. “We’ve seen it before, so they know it can be done though. Everything up to this point has led us to (the playoff game). (We need to) try to keep the lead. A lot of the games this year were 2-1 and we’ve had the lead and we’ve given the lead up.”
Cedar has been led by three scorers. JD Beacham led the team with seven goals, Abe Brower has added six more and Jaden Carver has five of his own. The keeper for the Redmen is Jacob Rehkop, who has two shutouts on the season.
“We know they’ve got one kid that has scored the majority of their goals, so we’re just realizing that and we’ll focus on him,” Kamachi said. “We need to be patient and try to hold back their attack as much as possible. Jake (Rehkop) has had some big stops for us. He’s had some big saves for us in big games.”
First up for the Redmen is a game against the top seed out of Region 11, Ridgeline. Cedar will travel to Cache Valley to take on the Riverhawks today at 4 p.m.
“As a four seed, we don’t have a lot of pressure on us,” Kamachi said. “We’re going to go in there and just relax. They’re a brand new school and playing for their first playoff victory. We’re going to try to get an early goal and take that advantage away. Our region prepared us for the playoffs. It doesn’t matter what place you get in the playoffs because we’re a tough region.”
Today’s first-round games (all games 4 p.m.):
R12-3 Tooele at R10-2 North Sanpete
R11-4 Ben Lomond at R9-1 Snow Canyon
R9-4 Cedar at R11-1 Ridgeline
R12-3 Juab at R10-2 Stansbury
R11-3 Logan at R9-2 Dixie
R10-4 Union at R12-1 Canyon View
R12-4 Carbon at R10-1 Park City
R9-3 Desert Hills at R10-2 Juan Diego
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