A common thread binds each player selected by the Deseret News as an MVP for the 2010 girls soccer season.
These were players who took their contributions to another level. They scored the big goals. They made the key plays. They helped their respective teams enjoy a great degree of success.
And each of these players knows how it feels to end a season as a champion at some point during their careers.
5A: Stephanie Verdoia, Brighton
It comes as an ironic twist that Stephanie Verdoia was not responsible for scoring Brighton's final goal of the season — the one that lifted the Bengals past Viewmont to claim the 5A title.
Verdoia did practically everything necessary on offense during the season to get Brighton in position to go undefeated and claim its first state championship since 2005. The senior forward scored 27 goals to rank second among 5A players in goal-scoring.
To put her contributions in perspective, the No. 2 scorer for the Bengals had just five goals to her credit this season.
Verdoia's ability to carry the offense helped make her team virtually unstoppable.
"She was anything and everything a coach would ask for up top," Brighton coach Tennille Vance said. "She has the talent and she has the motivation. She has the heart. She leaves everything out on that field. No one is going to beat her."
Vance said that besides becoming an outstanding scoring forward, Verdoia emerged as an important team leader on and off the field. She was the type of player her younger teammates looked up to and admired.
For all of Verdoia's clutch play — which included scoring six of Brighton's nine goals during its 5A playoff run — she deferred to the Bengals' defense as being the difference-maker. Verdoia said she sharpened her skills by training against such a solid unit.
"Every practice we had to go against them," Verdoia said. "It's a battle every time. Even when you think you have an easy go to a goal, they're there fighting for the 50/50 ball, getting you out of the way and making you a better player."
Verdoia also possesses a relentless work ethic that made her want to do whatever she could to make her team better.
The senior worked hard during the club soccer season to refine her skills so that she could be at the top of her game when she came back to play high school soccer. Verdoia always kept her eye on seeing how she could make a play develop rather than just waiting for everything to come to her.
"You would be surprised the deflections that can become goals," Verdoia said. "The little touches. I just make sure I'm working for every opportunity I can get."
It is a trait that should serve her well as she continues her soccer career with Seattle University this fall.
4A: Marissa Nimmer, Timpanogos
A year after helping lead her team to a 4A title, Marissa Nimmer felt thoroughly unsatisfied. The Timpanogos forward was plagued by the thought that she did not do nearly enough to help her team win it all.
Nimmer wanted nothing more than to get a second crack at it.
"I wanted to be able to lead our team and make it back to that championship game because, the year before, I didn't feel like I had played my best," Nimmer said. "I wanted to make it there again and have another chance at it. That was my goal."
In reality, Nimmer put together an MVP-worthy season as a junior after scoring 24 goals and powering the T-Wolves' offense through the playoffs during the team's successful title run.
It was more of the same as a senior. Nimmer scored 23 goals and led Timpanogos to a Region 7 crown and a return trip to the 4A title game. Her efforts helped the T-Wolves finish unbeaten in region play for the first time in nearly a decade.
Nimmer also broke the all-time scoring record at the school. She finished with 85 goals during her four-year high school career.
One reason Nimmer grew into a standout soccer player during her four years is that she possesses a competitive nature unmatched by few of her peers. Once Nimmer decided she needed to do something extra to make her team successful, she pushed herself to make that goal a reality.
"She has a history and a track record of rising to the occasion," T-Wolves coach Natalyn Lewis said. "She attacks challenges head on. She doesn't hide from them. She's not scared for them. She craves them. Her competitive nature makes her desire to face these challenges."
Lewis said that every college that talked to her about players on the Timpanogos roster always brought up Nimmer first. Only one destination was on the senior midfielder's mind, though.
Signing with BYU was never in question. Nimmer knew once the Cougars offered her a scholarship, the recruiting process would be over.
"That was the school I wanted to go to ever since I was a very little girl," Nimmer said. "I was a ball girl for them. So I always wanted to play there. I was looking at other options just in case they didn't offer me. But I'm glad I got accepted there."
3A: Emily Bruder, Juan Diego
After just two seasons of playing up top for Juan Diego, Emily Bruder has already carved out a reputation for making clutch plays on the biggest stage.
As a freshman last season, Bruder helped the Soaring Eagle snare their first-ever 3A girls soccer title when she scored a first-half goal off a cross from Vicki Shimkus to lift Juan Diego to a 1-0 victory over Morgan.
Then, as a sophomore this year, Bruder helped the Soaring Eagle repeat as champions after beating a defender and sending home a left-footed shot in the 85th minute for the golden goal that beat Park City 2-1.
The irony of it all is that Bruder wasn't sure she would even play that big of a role at the start of her freshman season.
"We had 10 seniors last year and I was thinking I wasn't going to play much," Bruder said. "But I guess if you step it up and work hard, you get to that point where the coaches look at you and say you're good enough and you can do this."
Stepping up has not been an issue for Bruder. Her goals coming into her sophomore season were to score more than last year, improve weak areas of her game and become mentally stronger against tough opponents.
Bruder's stats speak to her progression as a forward. She led Juan Diego with 26 goals a year ago and increased her scoring output to a statewide-best 35 goals this season.
And she is far from satisfied. Bruder wants to do everything necessary to keep her team on top. She wants to improve on her 35 goals from this season when next fall rolls around. And she also wants to make sure this season isn't the last time that the Soaring Eagle leave Rio Tinto Stadium as winners.
"The team and I really want to get more state titles and we're looking to get more," Bruder said. "As long as we practice hard every day and we're all dedicated and we all give our best out there, then we can do it. We can win."
Bruder's dedication to the sport shows even in backyard soccer with her older sister, Allison. The two sisters played as teammates during Juan Diego's first title run and both possess a competitive edge that turns even a friendly game into a competitive training session.
"I train on her to get better and she trains to block shots," Bruder said. "It's competitive. We have a good time. I'd have to say it's pretty even."
2A: Taylor Ritzman, Waterford
When Waterford graduated many of its primary offensive weapons from last season's 2A title-winning team, Taylor Ritzman was called to move from defense to help fill a scoring void up top.
For the senior, making such a position switch was a dream come true. It was her natural position in club soccer and it was a spot where Riztman felt most at home.
"I always wanted to be a forward," Ritzman said. "I just like the responsibility of being the person who puts the game away."
Ritzman did an excellent job of leading the Ravens up top. She scored 23 goals and helped her team reach a state title game for the third consecutive season. Once there, Ritzman scored the second-half equalizer that helped Waterford force a shootout against St. Joseph before eventually losing on penalty kicks.
She missed her penalty kick in the shootout, causing momentum to swing to the Jayhawks. But Ritzman played a big role in getting the team to that point by playing both up top and sliding back as a defender during the course of the game to help shut down the potent St. Joseph offense.
"I knew I would be playing defense pretty much the whole time," Ritzman said. "But after we scored, I obviously wanted to stay up. It was a big adrenalin rush."
Being a big-time contributor to her team's success is nothing new to Ritzman. She has started either at forward or defender for the past four seasons and has been a team leader for much of that time.
Still, she felt surprised at how quickly she became a contributor for the Ravens.
"I knew I was going to play a role on the varsity team," Ritzman said. "I don't think I expected it to be this big — especially as a freshman."
Like 5A MVP Stephanie Verdoia, Ritzman will continue her soccer career at Seattle U. next fall.