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American Fork goalkeeper Haven Empey ‘has that something,’ is the Deseret News’ 2019 Ms. Soccer

Empey recorded four shutouts and held opponents to just 14 goals scored this season, and finishes her high school career with two state championships and a 53-5 overall record as a starter

American Fork High School goalkeeper Haven Empey poses for photos on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, after being named Ms. Soccer 2019 by the Deseret News.
American Fork High School goalkeeper Haven Empey poses for photos on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, after being named Ms. Soccer 2019 by the Deseret News.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

AMERICAN FORK — Derek Dunn will never forget the day.

It was 2015 and the American Fork girls soccer team was playing postseason soccer.

Dunn was the head coach of the Cavemen — he still is — and his team that year would record 12 victories and advance as far as the quarterfinals of the 5A state tournament, before losing to the eventual state champion Davis Darts.

In goal for the Cavemen during that run was Savanna Empey. Only a junior at the time, Empey was locked in as the team’s goalkeeper, having helped American Fork record three shutouts and hold opponents to only 21 goals.

That is what made the moment unforgettable.

Following a playoff game, one of two for the Cavemen that postseason, Haven Empey, Savanna’s younger sister and a 13-year-old eighth grader at the time, approached Dunn. That wasn’t unusual, as Haven would be attending American Fork High School starting in 2016. What Haven said to Dunn was unusual, though, even unforgettable.

“I will never forget the day,” he said. “She showed up to a playoff game and she told me, ‘When I come next year, coach, I am going to take my sister’s spot.’ She was dead serious. There was no joke about it. She literally looked me in the face and told me she was taking her sister’s spot.”

Dunn was a little nervous — “We know how family gets sometimes,” he said — but mostly thrilled.

“That was something I was really excited about,” he said.

Haven didn’t end up unseating Savanna in 2016 and she laughs about it now — “I definitely had a lot of confidence,” she said — but that moment alerted Dunn to the fact that she had it.

“She had that something that would definitely help our team excel,” he said.

Time has proven him right and after leading American Fork to its second state championship in three years, Haven Empey is the Deseret News’ 2019 Ms. Soccer.

“To get it means the world to me,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to shoot for whatever I could get and Ms. Soccer was one of those things. I wanted to achieve that. I looked up to my teammates who have received it and I just always wanted to do the very best I could. To get it is pretty awesome.”

Awesome is an appropriate way to describe Empey’s play as a goalkeeper.

Starting in 2017, she’s been the woman in goal for American Fork. That year, she was responsible for five shutouts and helped the Cavemen limit opponents to just 15 total goals. In 2018, she had eight shutouts and allowed only 13 goals. This year, she had four shutouts and limited opposing teams to 14 goals.

Those numbers fail to scratch the surface when it comes to her impact, though. Numbers like her 53-5 overall record as a starter and two state championships do a much better job at that.

“What makes her so good is the fact that she is so team-oriented,” Dunn said. “She is not an individual, especially in the back being the organizer that she is. She is a coach and coachable. Her being both of those things helped our team tremendously.”

This season, a state title-winning season, especially. Coming into 2019, American Fork was not as respected statewide as in years past, largely due to the team’s youth. That and AF’s shortened state tournament run in 2018, when American Fork was upset by Davis in quarterfinals. That loss hit Empey hard.

“I definitely realized in that game what it feels like to be a senior and not reach that goal,” she said. “It was heartbreaking to see my teammates on the ground crying. They didn’t achieve what we knew we could achieve. Feeling that for them made me realize how bad I wanted my senior season to end on the note that I knew it could.”

She promised Dunn that it would.

“We had a little meeting the next day and she told me, ‘Coach that’ll never happen again.’ I told her you can’t guarantee those kinds of things in this game, but at the same time I knew she was going to come out and work,” he said. “That loss motivated her and it propelled everything that happened this year. A lot of people didn’t think we could get where we got to, but if you’d asked Haven she knew exactly how we were going to do it.”

Dunn has never once questioned Empey’s work ethic, because she is a perfectionist and a workaholic.

“It is crazy how many times she will work on the same thing over and over,” he said. “She will work on something until she feels like it is perfect. She will have you kick balls to her all day and all night. She shows up on Saturday and has the girls from the team shoot at her for hours. She finds a way to train, does private training with someone else every week, even after our work during the week.”

Empey is unapologetic about it, because it isn’t about her. She works as hard as she does for the benefit of others.

“It has come about with all the years of playing and wanting to be the best I am,” she said. “I am competitive with myself, and I set the bar really hard and when I don’t reach that bar it bothers me.

“It bothers me and pushes me to perfect everything and to keep myself playing at that high bar and to the expectation that I know my coaches and teammates know I can reach. I don’t want to let anybody down, so I want to do everything I can to perform at my best every time.”

At American Fork, she has done just that and become the best goalkeeper in school history in the process.

Not one to take the easy way out, Empey is graduating from American Fork early, as a straight-A student and Academic All-State athlete, in order to attend BYU. The school is in her genes.

Her father Mike Empey has been both a player and coach with BYU football, while older brother James Empey is currently an offensive lineman for the Cougars. Then there is Savanna, a goalkeeper for BYU’s women’s soccer team, who is soon to finish a mission to New Zealand for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Haven looked at out-of-state schools for awhile — “It was one of those things, if I didn’t have to compete with my sister, I didn’t want to,” she said — before ultimately settling on BYU.

“At the end of the day I just realized that my heart bleeds blue,” she said with a laugh. “I needed to go where I knew I’d be the most successful and where the coaches had put so much effort and devotion into making me feel wanted. BYU is where that turned out to be. Once a Cougar always a Cougar, right?”

And who knows, perhaps BYU head coach Jennifer Rockwood will have a lifelong memory created soon, when Haven walks up to her for a chat.