SALT LAKE CITY — A year ago at this time, all the talk surrounding the 3A state tournament centered on the Judge Memorial Bulldogs, and for good reason.
The Bulldogs were far and away the tournament favorites, a status they made good on when they defeated the rival Morgan Trojans in the 3A state championship game.
That isn’t the case this season, however, heading into the state tournament.
When postseason action kicks off Wednesday afternoon at various high schools across Utah, the defending champion Bulldogs will be just one of many title contenders.
Arguably foremost among those are the American Leadership Academy Eagles.
The Eagles (15-1-0, 12-0-0) were semifinalists a season ago and they want more, as evidenced by their classification-best regular season.
The Eagles earned the best record of any team in 3A en route to a Region 14 title. They also boast one of the top scoring defenses (17 goals allowed) and the most prolific offense, with 70 goals scored.
Senior Joseph Valle is also the highest-scoring soccer player in the state, with 29 goals this year, while goalkeeper Marcus Haston leads the classification with four shutouts.
“They have been maturing as a team, maturing as players,” ALA head coach Antonio Mendieta said. “They decided they wanted to play every game this season like it was a semifinal, and they’ve gotten a lot better because of it. They’ve changed the mentality here to a winning mentality, rather than just a competitive one. We came up short the last two years, and what was holding us back from getting to the title (game) was more the mental aspect of things, the mentality and the attitude. That has changed.”
If American Leadership Academy is the favorite, not too far behind are both Summit Academy (11-1-0, 7-1-0) and Judge Memorial (9-3-1, 6-2-0). The Bears claimed the Region 13 title, with the Bulldogs a close second.
The teams actually split the season series, with the Bulldogs' only other loss in 3A coming at the hands of Morgan (8-6-2, 4-3-1).
Each of the Bears, Bulldogs and Trojans qualify as a contender, with Summit Academy and Judge Memorial each considered a top-five team in the classification.
Additionally, Grand (12-1-1, 9-0-1) finished first in Region 15, and along with Manti (10-4-1, 6-3-1) owns the title of contender.