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High school soccer: Riverton blanks Mountain Ridge to advance to 6A semifinals for first time in school history

SHARE High school soccer: Riverton blanks Mountain Ridge to advance to 6A semifinals for first time in school history
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Riverton’s Belle Christensen (20), center, celebrates her goal with teammates against Mountain Ridge play in the state quarterfinal game in Riverton on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021. Riverton won 3-0.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The last thing Riverton soccer coach Paul Moizer wanted to do was put more pressure on his girls ahead of Thursday’s 6A playoff game by telling them the program had never won a quarterfinal game in the 22-year history of the school.

He knew beating a Mountain Ridge team that Riverton needed overtime to beat a month ago was pressure enough.

If Moizer’s players were feeling the pressure it certainly didn’t show. They came out on the front from the opening whistle and controlled the match throughout en route to a convincing 3-0 victory to advance to the 6A semifinals for the first time in school history.

“They were focused, they were ready to play. They were so excited and they were able to translate onto the field,” said Moizer.

Of Thursday’s four 6A quarterfinal games, No. 2 Riverton was the only home team to win as it’s the highest remaining seed in the playoffs. Riverton will face No. 6 seed Layton in the semifinals at Juan Diego High School at 12:30 p.m. next Tuesday.

Belle Christensen was the hero for Riverton notching a pair of goals, including the all-important opening goal just 15 minutes into the match. She said that set the tone against Mountain Ridge and kept a dream season alive.

“It’s so exciting. It’s so cool cause we’ve been working hard together as a team and from the beginning, as seniors we’ve been saying we’re going to take state and now it’s in reach, within our grasp,” said Christensen.

Moizer said his players did a great job possessing in the early stages of the match and getting the ball into Christensen up top as she combined with her teammates to create chances.

Possession soccer was not Riverton’s strength earlier in the season but it’s been the norm down the stretch of the season, and Moizer attributes the 3-2 come-from-behind victory against Mountain Ridge back on Sept. 16 as the reason why.

In that game Mountain Ridge successfully pressed Riverton into poor giveaways, and it forced Moizer and his coaching staff to change up some tactics to be more effective.

“We’ve kind of grown into that as the year’s gone on. We were much more of a longer ball team early on and then we had teams pressing us so we had to possess more. We’ve just grown into it. They’ve embraced it,” said Moizer.

Christensen’s opening goal just 15 minutes into the match on Thursday was a thing of beauty as she redirected a driven ball by Berkley Dymock with a flick of her foot in the penalty area.

“I just kind of stuck my leg out and it flicked off my leg and went in. The ball was perfect,” said Christensen, who said the early goal helped the entire team play relaxed the rest of the way.

The insurance goals didn’t come until the second half, but they eventually did starting with Morganne McCleary’s curler from the top of the box in the 46th minute to push the lead to 2-0.

Nine minutes later Christensen scored again, stretching the lead to 3-0, which came after a nifty bit of ball skill by Liv Kaneen near the sideline freed her up to whip a cross into the box.

Defensively, Moizer said his team’s ability to put pressure on Mountain Ridge prevented the visitors from consistently generating an attack. A similar approach will be necessary in the semifinals against a very good Layton squad.