It’s been a dozen years since St. Joseph’s girls soccer program last lifted a state championship trophy. On Saturday it will get another chance, but it will have to beat a program used to championship success.
Top seed St. Joseph will face No. 2 seed Rowland Hall — winners of four of the past five 2A state titles — in the 2A title game at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman at 2 p.m.
Both teams punched their tickets to the final with semifinal wins on Thursday at Juan Diego High School.
St. Joseph edged No. 4 seed Millard 1-0 in the first semifinal behind a goal from senior Abigail Walker, while Rowland Hall beat rival Waterford in the second game courtesy of two late second-half goals from Zakrie Smith.
For St. Joseph, its explosive attack was held in check most of the game by Millard, but first-year coach Tom Evans believed his team’s style played a big role in limiting Millard at the other end of the field.
“Our game is we love to possess the ball, we move the ball around the midfield and we kind of made them chase us I think and kind of took them out of their game a little bit,” said Evans, whose team heads into the final with an 12-1 record.
Evans took over a program that includes seven freshman — including his daughter — and six sophomores. Despite just 17 players on the roster, they’ve come together very well and he believes seniors Walker and Kara Sugiyama have played a key role in that.
Walker in particular came up big against Millard as she scored the lone goal in the 32nd minute as she followed up an initial 1v1 opportunity that was saved.
“One of our biggest drills we practice in our trainings is shooting and following, and so since he’s reinforced it in our head so many times, follow, follow, follow, I was able to follow and put it in,” said Walker. “We’ve worked so hard to get here and I’m so happy we could put it together for this game.”
The goal was the sixth of the year for Walker, and Evans was thrilled to see his senior play such a big role in the program’s first semifinal appearance in a decade.
“She’s really grown as a leader this year, we made her a captain and over the years she’s really blossomed, and through failures and success she’s really been one of our good leaders so it’s awesome to see her get that,” said Evans.
Walker said St. Joseph’s win over Rowland Hall in a region game last month was the signature win for her and her teammates, letting them know they could compete with anyone in 2A. To end a decadelong state title drought, the Jayhawks will have to do it again.
Juan Diego got a pair of goals from Smith in the final 18 minutes to polish off a 3-1 win over Waterford in the second semifinal.
Elisabeth Bocock opened the scoring for Rowland Hall 15 minutes into the match, but early in the second half Waterford’s Annika Marshall equalized on a 40-yard bomb that caught Rowland Hall’s keeper off her line.
Aside for that one defensive hiccup, Rowland Hall coach Colette Jepson-Smith thought her players managed the match very well.
“I think we were able to calm the ball down. Playing turf, the ball can get super bouncy so I think they did a really good job of playing it on the ground, getting it on the ground and being able to find the width and get in behind,” said Jepson-Smith.
Rowland Hall beat Waterford twice in the regular season, but it didn’t take anything for granted about beating its rivals a third time. Last year Rowland Hall swept the season series with Waterford but lost in the state championship game as its string of four straight state titles came to a surprising end.
In the final, the shoe will be on the different foot for Rowland Hall as it looks to avenge an earlier 2-1 loss to St. Joseph.
“I expect it to be a good battle. I believe they’re there to play good-looking soccer, they played the ball on the ground a lot when we played against them at their place, and we try and do the same, so I think it’s going to be a fun battle of how can we break each other down tactically,” said Jepson-Smith.