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State playoffs — Decision time

State soccer titles to be earned in coming days

Bonneville's Cassidy Florence, front, fights for the ball against Bountiful's Rachel Kime, left, earlier this season. The Lakers and Braves are 4A favorites.
Bonneville's Cassidy Florence, front, fights for the ball against Bountiful's Rachel Kime, left, earlier this season. The Lakers and Braves are 4A favorites.
Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

All questions will be answered. All possibilities exhausted. The debate will be over and it will all be decided on the field.

Yes, the soccer playoffs are beginning, and it is time to let the players decide for good which team is the best.

Here's a preview of what to expect:

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CLASS 5A: It is a three-team race. Sure Lone Peak, the Region 4 champion and finals participant the past two seasons, has an outside chance. Or Riverton, the Region 3 title winner that is boasting a 14-1 record, could go on a four-game run. But the 5A champion will most likely be Alta, Brighton or Davis.

"I think that those three teams have kind of established themselves as the teams to beat," said Brighton senior goalkeeper McKinzie Olson. "I know that we are just trying to concentrate on playing our own game. If we go out and play Bengal soccer, then I think we can beat any team we meet up with."

Because of the way the bracketing for the tournament was done before the season began, the Bengals have a tough road to the title. They may be the top-ranked team in the state, but after tying for the Region 2 title and losing a coin toss with Alta, they will most likely be going on the road for a quarterfinal matchup against No. 2 Davis. Led by Olson, Myriah Stockman, Jessica Ringwood, Mandy Verdoia and a tremendous senior class, Brighton has the talent, experience and mental toughness to win the whole thing.

The Darts have established themselves as the class of Region 1, losing only once all season. With players such as Scottie Prince, Christy Brian, Roxy Tebbs and Colette Jepson leading the way, Davis has displayed its muscle up north. Not only do the Darts score in bunches, but the defense has the lowest goals-against average in the classification.

"I think we have the talent to do some great things," said Jepson early in the year.

Alta lost its first in-state game in nearly two years to Brighton, but don't count the Hawks out. There is still that problem with the 5A curse. No team since the classification was formed has repeated as state champs, but with the talent on this team, that too could change. Kealia Ohai, Ashley Jones, Natalie Cude and Summer Tillotson have this team believing it can capture a second straight title.

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CLASS 4A: Bountiful is the defending state champion and still the team to beat. Perhaps a big reason for the Braves' recent success in the tournament — they have won two of the last four titles — is their attitude come playoff time.

"We call the tournament, 'Bountiful time,"' said coach Dave Wigham. "Winning a region title is fine and all, but that is not how we measure ourselves here. What we get done in the tournament is how you get remembered."

All teams must deal with it, but injuries have been especially tough on the Braves this season. They will be without their two top forwards but have found ways around the problem. Ari Wood and Chelsea Forbes have played up top at times, and sophomore Felicia Sturgeon has filled in nicely. Plus with all-state keeper Molli Merrill in the net, Bountiful has a luxury that not many other teams have.

"Our defense can be aggressive because even if they make a mistake, Molli is still back there and will stop almost anything," said Wigham. "She is just nails back there."

Bonneville lost only two games all season, both to Bountiful, and would like one more shot to avenge those losses. The only way that can happen is if the two teams meet for the title.

"We have been right in the games with them," said Lakers coach Mike Hickman. "We are not intimidated by them. We know we can beat them. We just need to do a better job of finishing."

It would not be any shock to see an all-Region 5 final. The past two years, the toughest region in 4A soccer has had three of four semifinalists and both finalists. It would not even be that shocking to see teams such as Mountain Crest or Sky View advance to the semis or finals.

Should Region 5 falter, teams such as East, Murray, Springville, Orem or Mountain View could pounce on an opportunity to win it all.

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CLASS 3A: For several years, Wasatch has been a consistent soccer power. Unfortunately, for the Wasps, they have also been in the same region with Judge and Park City, who have won six of the past eight 3A titles. But it may finally be time for Wasatch to step to the forefront.

"We think we have the team that could go all the way," said forward Kimberly Parker. "Wasatch has always had good teams, but we want to break through and win one for coach this year."

Dawain Wheatleyhas been the coach behind the team's success. His steady presence has kept the team always in the hunt, but this was the first year the Wasps were able to break through and capture a Region 10 title.

"We have a lot of athletes on the team," said Wheatley. "The key word there is 'team.' Nobody on this team is selfish. They all are willing to do whatever is asked of them and I think that is one reason why we have a chance."

If Wasatch can be caught, expect a team such as Juan Diego, Waterford, Park City, Bear River or Logan to get there.

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CLASS 2A:The question on everyone's mind in 2A is: How good is Millard? The Eagles have rolled through the regular season as the state's only unbeaten team. They averaged more than nine goals per game while giving up less than one-half goal. Just how ready are they going to be to face tougher competition?

"We have heard about Millard all year and we look forward to playing them," said Rowland Hall's Lauren Babcock. "We have been working hard all year to get there, and if it is Millard that would be just fine."

The Winged Lion and Millard met last season in the semifinals, with Rowland Hall advancing. It would not be a shock to see both teams back. The other team with a realistic shot of winning the second 2A title in state history is St. Joseph.