Before Monday, Alta sophomore goalkeeper Thiago Moreira wasn’t very sure of his abilities in a penalty shootout, citing his lack of success at the club level.
When he saved three penalty shots in Monday’s semifinal victory over Skyline, however, he felt his confidence start to grow, and by the time Wednesday’s 5A state championship concluded, that confidence had grown higher than the rafters of Rio Tinto Stadium.
With no goals being scored in 100 minutes of game play, Moreira stepped up for the Hawks in yet another penalty shootout, saving three shots once again to give Alta a 3-1 victory over Lehi in the shootout and the 5A state crown.
The win gives Alta its ninth title in program history — tied with Bountiful for the most in Utah all-time.
“We kept trying to win in regulation and overtime, but when I saw there was 30 seconds left in the second overtime, I started getting ready to leave my mark,” Moreira said.
“Today, going into this (shootout) I was calm. I told myself ‘you’re fine, you were in this situation a couple days ago. You just have to do what you did last time.’”
All due respect to Juan Diego High School — the location of Alta’s semifinal win on Monday — the setting and stakes were much more significant on Wednesday for Moreira and the Hawks, but they managed to step up through the pressure.
Alta’s Thiago Moreira makes his third save of penalty shootout to give the Hawks the 5A state crown pic.twitter.com/XAkM7pTwyt— Tyler Haslam (@TylerHaslam_) May 25, 2022
In addition to Moreira’s saves, seniors Brock Bennion, Faris Kurdi and Carter Bell slotted home near perfect kicks in the shootout just hours after the trio (along with the rest of the team’s seniors) walked at Alta’s graduation.
“I just told my teammates that I’ll do my part, but they had to do theirs,” Moreira said. “That’s exactly what they did. They stepped up, they never stopped playing and they put it all out there, and we got what we wanted.”
Alta head coach Mackenzie Hyer said that the Hawks had practiced penalties thousands of times over the course of the season and all that practice paid off after a hard fought 100 minutes of physical, defensive soccer.
“The players said that they were ready to go out and win this game and I’m just so proud of them,” Hyer said. “This field is huge, it was the first hot day of the year … for them to battle (all those obstacles) and a great team in Lehi, that practice showed. They still had their legs underneath them and they were able to step up and knock the kicks home.”
Moreira, along with Lehi keeper Kaleb Cowley — who also made three shootout saves in Lehi’s semifinal victory over Stansbury — didn’t have much to do over the course of the game, as each was only tested a couple of times. Most of the game’s shots were from distance and soared over the crossbar or wide of goal.
So when it came time for the shootout, things went from zero to 100 real quick for boys in goal, but Moreira said he remained patient all game, knowing he wanted to leave a mark on the game in some way.
The two Region 8 teams split the series in the regular season, so it wasn’t a surprise that they went toe to toe with each other all game long.
While they weren’t able to grab a goal in the run of play, Hyer was praiseworthy of the defensive performance the Hawks put together, notching their ninth clean sheet of the season when they absolutely needed it most.
“We’d seen them before, we knew what they were going to do and they knew what we were going to do,” Hyer said.
“We just kept talking about playing together, keeping our shape and doing the right things, and I think that’s what it came down to. The defenses played so well on both sides of the ball and that’s what a championship game should be.”
The Hawks ended their season on a 10-game winning streak to finish their year 18-2. The squad’s last loss of the season came on April 12 against none other than the Pioneers — who they, of course, got the last laugh over.
The team is Alta’s first championship side not coached by the legendary Lee Mitchell. Hyer said she and her staff — all Alta alumni — were honored to be able to contribute to Mitchell and the school’s historic soccer legacy in Utah.
“I got to play for the great Lee Mitchell (in high school) and what we got to do today was continue that tradition of winning and excellence that he started,” Hyer said.
“It’s just amazing. It’s part of our family history at Alta soccer and these boys have written an amazing chapter for 2022. I’m really proud of them.”