HIGHLAND — Last fall, Lauren Hair sat on the bench and watched the Lone Peak girls soccer team struggle and slip its way to a painful six-win season. The Knights finished at the bottom of the region table and made an early exit from the playoffs in 2004.
For Hair, the most frustrating part of that year was sitting and watching instead of helping her team.
Over the summer, Hair was one of a select group of players from the region who were chosen to play in the national Olympic development program.
With Hair clearly establishing herself as a top-class soccer player, those who had seen her play found it hard to believe that she was on the bench.
But Hair was just a sophomore, and her coach decided that playing time would go to the more senior players on the team. Even though she recognized she was good enough to be in the starting 11, she never got the chance to step onto the field.
"Our coach last year had a philosophy, like, the older ones play," said Hair. "It didn't matter how good you were, he just played the older ones over you. He didn't believe in me or any of the other good juniors."
Now entering her junior season, Hair has finally come off the bench. Under a new coach and a new system, she's become one of the most dangerous strikers in the state. The rest of the team has undergone a drastic change as well, jumping out to an 8-1 start and becoming the early favorites to win Region 4.
Mike Lahargoue took over as head coach of the Knights over the summer, and he wasted no time making Hair a starter. Her subsequent performance has been a big surprise to most, but she was confident she could play well all along.
"It was so frustrating, just sitting on the sideline," said Hair. "I'd just be sitting there with people and we knew we could beat them if we just played the best 11. (This year) it's like a complete change. The team spirit is a lot more happy. We have a coach that believes in us."
Hair is tied with her teammate Shantel Flanary as the third-leading goal scorer in Class 5A. The two have scored 13 goals each.
When Lahargoue was asked which of his players had made the biggest difference in his team's turnaround, he immediately pointed to Hair.
"She didn't even play last year," said Lahargoue. "She's scored goals and made assists."
Her passing ability has made her an even more dangerous weapon, and she's recorded almost as many assists as goals. Like any good team player, she is just as satisfied helping another teammate score as she is scoring herself.
"I want to get as many (goals) as I can," said Hair. "But assisting is also something that is just as important for me."
Even though no one saw her play last year, colleges started knocking on her door as soon as recruiting rules allowed them to. She has already had serious looks from more than a dozen schools, including the University of Utah.
"I'm just trying to keep my colleges open," said Hair. "It's been fun talking to colleges."
In the meantime, Hair has other things on her mind.
"We want to be region champions and make it to the state finals," said Hair. "I think everyone's seeing that goal and how close it can be."