One of this season's leading goal scorers in Utah Valley didn't play a single game for her team last year. It wasn't because she was injured or her family moved. It was because last year she was still in junior high school.
Marissa Nimmer, a freshman at Timpanogos, has scored 19 times — a number only one other player in the valley has matched. She is one of several young and talented freshman players that are seeing some significant time on the varsity squads this season.
The words "youth" and "inexperience" are being used a lot more by coaches. You might expect that from a team that is struggling, but more than a few of these freshman players are on teams competing for region championships and the playoffs.
Springville, the top team in Region 7, has about three freshmen in its regular rotation. Nimmer is joined by a freshman goalkeeper at Timpanogos. Even state contender Lone Peak has put some ninth-graders on the field this season.
Coaches say that most freshman who play at the varsity level earn their place by showing off their intangible abilities.
"When I do tryouts I don't ask them what grade they are," said Timpanogos coach Natalyn Lewis. "I frankly don't care. What I look for is tenacity, speed, and heart. Everything else can be taught. (Nimmer) had all those things and so did a few other freshmen that made the team and are getting significant minutes."
At Springville, coach Ryan Swanson has seen freshman players make a big difference in his team's depth. And, they've come up with some big performances in important games.
"They just earn their playing time," said Swanson. "For me, I play who I think is on that day. They work hard in practice and then they show that they can play. They're getting more time now than they were earlier in the season."
In a critical region game against Orem, Red Devils freshman forward Autumn Woods scored a goal, and drew a penalty kick that helped ice the game. When asked if playing against juniors and seniors was tough, she just shrugged.
"Not really," she said. "It's all in your head."
With their relative inexperience, mistakes will inevitably be made, but the coaches also agree that the energy and attitude a young player brings is more than enough to offset that.
"They're going to get some big senior that's running at them and they're scared to death," said Lewis. "It's going to happen. But, sometimes they're just naive enough to not care. The advantage to them is they don't think about it."
Here's a closer look at a few freshmen making names for themselves around the valley:
• Marissa Nimmer, forward, Timpanogos: She'll likely finish with more than 20 goals this season. That will put her among the top scorers in the state.
• Autumn Woods, midfielder, Springville: She has contributed three goals, several assists, and is strong enough to stand up to her older opponents.
• Alexa Anderson, goalkeeper, Timpanogos: She has allowed just 1.33 goals per game this year. More importantly, she rarely makes a mistake.
• Alexis Eaton, midfielder, Springville: She has scored three times, and is a proven commodity all over the midfield, both in the middle and on the wings.
• McKell Salmon, midfielder, Mountain View: She has made the most of her minutes and has proven her ability to set up goals. She should turn into a solid four-year contributor.
• Marissa Unbedacht, forward, Timpanogos: She has scored four goals coming off the bench and, along with Nimmer, will give the T-Wolves a formidable attacking front for the next three years.