MURRAY— East coach Mike Kernodle may have summed it up best when he said, "If teams think they are going to go in to Murray and pick up a 'W', they are in for a surprise."
Kernodle's team was the latest to find out just how far the Spartans' soccer program has come after No. 5-ranked Murray beat No. 2 East 1-0 to take sole possession of first place in Region 6.
"I think it is the confidence of the players," said Murray coach Becky Moore on the difference in this year's team. "It's incredible. We know we can compete with anyone."
Not only competing, but winning is what this squad has been doing, racing to a 7-0 region record and 8-1 overall— quite an improvement from a team that finished last season 7-10 with a first-round playoff exit. Moore credits the reversal not only to the players, but to the attitude of those players.
"We have a great leadership on this team," she said. "Our captains brings us a leadership that brings us together as a team, and when we play as a whole unit, we are much better."
The quad-captains of Marisa Epperson, McKenzie Jessop, Ellen Larsen and Ashley McGill have the Spartans playing some great soccer. McGill was extra impressive from her sweeper position in shutting down the East attack. She kept her defensive counterparts at the outside fullback, Jessop and Kylie Murakami, organized and assertive. And when East did send a ball through she did exactly what you want a sweeper to do and cut off the angles and cleared the ball back to the offense.
The defense did its job in limiting the opportunities for East to create scoring chances, but even when it did get off a shot, goalkeeper Shay Kennedy was always in the proper place to make the save.
"Out goalie was awesome," said Moore. "She is only a sophomore and I am sure glad we have her for two more years."
Neither team had many scoring chances, but it was Murray that appeared to be putting in more effort. The Spartans were more assertive in the attack, and overall they out-hustled the Leopards.
I thought our intensity was key," Moore added. "We were quicker and were winning more 50-50 balls."
After 73 minutes of soccer played mainly in the middle-third of the field, the Spartans stronger desire to win finally paid off. Brinna Bennion intercepted a pass forward from the East defense. She took a couple of dribbles and fired a shot from about 35 yards. The ball found the upper-right corner of the net for the game's lone goal.
The win for Murray was the first over East in six years. A sign of not only the quality of play, but of the raised expectations of the team.
"We want to win the region," Moore said. "This year, we want to advance at least three rounds in the playoffs, reach the semifinals, and we can actually see it. We can picture ourselves getting there."
If the Spartans continue playing the type of soccer they have to the midway point of the season, don't be surprised if everyone sees them playing there as well.
In other Thurday games:
NORTHRIDGE 4, CLEARFIELD 3: The Knights outlasted the Falcons in an offensive affair. Kelsie Ehlers, Taryn Garner, Sarah Naranjo and Niki Fernandes led the Knights with a goal apiece. Haly Hall, Whitney Trimble and Cloee Colohan scored for the Falcons.
DAVIS 2, WEBER 0:Lauren Parkhurst and Colette Jepson led the Darts to victory with a goal apiece. Scottie Prince recorded the shutout while Sydne Porter anchored the defense for Davis.
VIEWMONT 6, FREMONT 2:Erin Dalley had three goals for the Vikings in a victory over the Silver Wolves. Blaire Felt, Makell Hansen and Kaitlyn Merrick also had goals for top-ranked Viewmont.
BONNEVILLE 5, ROY 0:Jessie Baddley and Nicole Austin scored two goals each and Alex Filiaga scored once as the Lakers blanked the Royals.
BOUNTIFUL 1, WOODS CROSS 0:Christine Quinn scored the winning goal and Molli Merrill recorded the shutout as the Braves sneaked past the Wildcats.
SKY VIEW 5, BOX ELDER 0:Nicole Archibald and Lindey Heath each scored a pair of goals while Lataya Schafer added another as the Bobcats broke away in the second half. Lindsey Nielsen recorded the shutout in goal.
CYPRUS 2, GRANGER 1:Kirstie Henriod and Felicia Jensen each scored, leading the Pirates to victory. Kimberly Crowther had the goal for the Lancers.
WEST 3, COTTONWOOD 1:Laurel Ghoshroy scored twice and Kateki Mensahhad a goal for the Panthers. Stefani Shiozaki scored the lone goal for the Colts.
OLYMPUS 3, HIGHLAND 1: The Titans got a pair of goals from Rachel Perkins and another by Molly Shaw as keeper Jamie Rankin made 11 saves to stop the Rams.
CARBON 3, GRAND 2: The Dinos all three goals in the second half to record the win. Carbon was led by Samantha Smith, who scored two goals, and Brenda Davis, who added another. Silvia Bentley and Oceanna Irish scored for the Red Devils.
DELTA 2, NORTH SANPETE 1:McKenzie Petersen and Shanae Johnson each scored in the second half, leading the Rabbits to victory. Arwen Lott scored for the Hawks.
JUAN DIEGO 10, GRANITE 0:Lindsey Padjen and Taryn Vitacca each recorded a hat trick while Rachel Everett scored two goals as the Soaring Eagle blanked the Farmers. Brinn Green and Kendra Spooner each scored one for Juan Diego while Jenna Speare and Amy Garbrecht recorded the shutout.
SNOW CANYON 3, CANYON VIEW 0:Kayla Overfelt, Alex Jensen and Becky Whitehead each scored for the Warriors. Ami Parry recorded the shutout.
DIXIE 5, CEDAR 2:Kalehua Harward scored three goals while Lauren Johnson and McCall Rynerason each scored a goal to lift the Flyers. Sara Nakken scored twice for Cedar.
PINE VIEW 2, HURRICANE 1:Nikki Johnson scored to tie the game in the second half and Emily Judd added the game-winner for the Panthers. Angel Prince scored for the Tigers.
PARK CITY 8, UNION 0:Kelly Isleib had a hat trick while Heidi Beutler, Alex Phillips, Lauren Crowder and Elli Reed each scored once as the Miners blanked the Cougars. Alex Phillips and Cassie Palmachi recorded the shutout for Park City.
WASATCH 2, JUDGE 0:Holly Whiting and Makayle Price each scored as the Wasps defeated the Bulldogs. Heather Cohler led the Wasps on defense and Becca Knapp recorded her seventh shutout in a row.
MORGAN 2, UINTAH 1: Morgan improved to 4-5 on the season with the narrow victory over Uintah.
BEAR RIVER 2, BEN LOMOND 1 (OT): Jackie Fuller scored just six minutes into the first overtime period to give the Bears the win. Teisha Hardy of Bear River and Alyse Rochelle of Ben Lomond scored goals in regulation.
LOGAN 3, GRANTSVILLE 1: The Cowboys were no match for the Grizzlies. Brenna Horrocks, Cami Jensen and Jenna Brady each scored a goal for the Grizzlies.
OGDEN 4, TOOELE 0: The Tigers kept their region record perfect behind two goals from Liz Sorenson.