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High school soccer: Crimson Cliffs, Mountain Crest win in penalty shootouts, will play for 4A state title

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Crimson Cliffs players celebrate their victory against Sky View High in the 4A girls soccer state semifinal game at Juan Diego Catholic High School in Draper.

Crimson Cliffs players celebrate their victory against Sky View High in the 4A girls soccer state semifinal game at Juan Diego Catholic High School in Draper on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021.

Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

You can be certain about two things in Friday evening’s 4A girls soccer championship game. First, if the match goes to a penalty shootout, you can be certain that both teams will have had ample practice for it, and second, you can be certain that the Mustangs are going to be the team that comes away with the trophy.

In Thursday’s 4A semifinal matchups at Juan Diego High School, the Crimson Cliffs Mustangs and the Mountain Crest Mustangs each won their respective matches in a penalty shootout to punch their tickets to Rio Tinto for a chance to become the 4A state champions. Only two total goals were scored in a combined 200 minutes of play across both semifinal games. 

The first of the two goals was scored by Crimson Cliffs’ Kate Young within 46 seconds of the start of the day’s opening matchup between the Mustangs and Sky View. Then, 33 minutes later, Sky View’s Mia Morrison headed in a goal off a corner kick from Delaney Gibbons to make the game 1-1.

From that point on, a soccer ball never found the back of a net in either game unless it was in one of the penalty shootouts. 

After both overtime periods, Crimson Cliffs won its penalty shootout by a final tally of 3-2, thanks to three crucial saves from senior keeper Ellie Nielsen. When the shootout concluded, Crimson Cliffs players and supporters began to chant Nielsen’s name.

Nielsen said she was surprisingly calm heading into the shootout and that was what allowed her to make the three season-saving plays.

“Usually, I am so nervous for PKs, but today I was like, ‘I’m going to come out, I’m going to save these and we’re making it to state,’” Nielsen said. “So honestly, I didn’t feel that nervous. I just wanted to go out there and give it my all.”

Following Nielsen’s third save, Alexandra Blanchard stepped up to the spot to take what would be the game-winning kick. Blanchard’s shot appeared to be saved at first, but the ball slowly crept over the goal line, ending the game in what was likely a painful two seconds for Sky View and its supporters.

“We are so relieved,” Crimson Cliffs coach Kat Esplin said. “We’ve had this huge target on our backs this whole season and we had that target on our back because we were expected to get (to the final). But now we’re there, we’re relieved, and now we’ve just got to rest and get back to it tomorrow.”

The title game appearance will come in just the third year of existence for a Crimson Cliffs program that bowed-out in last year’s semifinal round. 

Even though it had already advanced to the title game, Crimson Cliffs hung around to watch the second match and were treated to a game similar to their own. Though no goals were scored after regulation and two overtime periods, both Mountain Crest and Ridgeline went end to end with each other over the course of 100 minutes.

An ensuing back-and-forth penalty shootout required each team to use eight separate shooters in order to determine a winner, with Mountain Crest coming out on top 6-5.

Though Mountain Crest handled rival Ridgeline throughout the regular season (won twice by an 8-2 aggregate score), it was tested by a Riverhawks team that undoubtedly created the closest chances at a game-winning goal in the dying minutes of regulation and overtime.

Mountain Crest coach Amber Hyatt admitted that her team didn’t put forth the best showing but was pleased that they are headed to Rio Tinto all the same as the school searches for its first girls soccer state championship since 1998. 

“It definitely wasn’t our best game of the season, but I’m happy we got the job done,” Hyatt said. “It’s a rival school so even though we beat them by six goals aggregate during the season we knew it was going to be a hard game. We knew it was going to be tough and it was going to be close, but we pulled it off — barely. … It’s been a long time coming and they’ve worked so hard all season, so they absolutely deserve it.”

The win sets up a highly anticipated championship matchup between first-seeded Crimson Cliffs and second-seeded Mountain Crest. The two sides haven’t played each other this season — or ever, as a matter of fact — but had been fighting for the rights to the top seed in 4A all season long. 

Both sides said they will be ready for a championship showdown that will take place just over 24 hours after each team officially booked their spot in the game. 

“Crimson is definitely a good team — obviously because it’s the final game and we don’t expect anything less — but I definitely believe my girls are ready to play and ready to take the state championship back to Mountain Crest,” Hyatt said.

For Crimson Cliffs, its focus is going to be on playing loose and relaxed, like Nielsen was during the team’s penalty shootout.

“We need to just come in and be relaxed, because when we play relaxed and just pass with each other we play so well,” Nielsen said. “We played frantic today, so I’m hoping tomorrow we’ll recognize that it’s our last game and we need to give it our all.”