As the calendar flips to August, that’s usually one of the signals that summer is drawing to a close for high school students.
For high school girls soccer players, that also means the season is finally here.
The 2021 season officially kicks off this Tuesday in what figures to be a fantastic season after last year’s playoff heroics in which four of the five state championships were decided by one goal, and three of those in the final minutes or overtime.
Here’s a closer look at each classification heading into the 2021 season:
Davis and American Fork have met in the past two state championship games, each winning once. As the 2021 season kicks off, is a third-straight title match-up later this season an inevitability?
If it does happen, it’s a reflection on the tremendous depth within the programs as each school lost major contribution in graduation.
Defending champ Davis graduated Deseret News Ms. Soccer Grace Nicol, Gatorade Player of the Year Alizabeth Arevalo and marquee defender Belle Mark.
“It’s very difficult to replace Ms. Soccer and Gatorade Player of the Year, that’s basically what we’re dealing with. That’s a lot of production and a leadership, and we’re hoping girls step into that role and embrace it, but we’re rather young,” said Davis coach Souli Phongsavath.
In all, he said Davis graduated about half of last year’s key contributors, but he fully believes in the players ready to take on larger roles.
“We have a saying and tell the kids, tradition never graduates, and that’s what we’re hoping for these girls step in and embrace that role,” said Phongsavath.
Taygan Sill is back in goal this season after being named first team all-state last year, while Annie Haycock at striker and Caroline Bitner in defense are key returners as well.
American Fork, which lost in overtime in last year’s championship as it missed out on a repeat title, was hit even harder by graduation with the departure of 12 seniors. That included four first team all-staters and two second-team all-staters.
To get back to lifting trophies, whether it’s a region or state, American Fork will be relying on an entirely different group of players. Coach Derek Dunn doesn’t believe it’s a rebuild though.
“We’re lucky enough at AF to have a good funnel system through the clubs and things like that and good kids that come through. We’ve been really lucky the last four years so we’ll see what it looks like,” said Dunn, whose team has who two of the past four 6A state championships.
Junior Nicole Lewis is one of the top returners for American Fork. She missed last year’s final after breaking her collarbone in the semifinals.
With just six seniors on the roster and seven juniors, Dunn will need to rely on even more sophomores this year, but said he’s excited to see how the fresh faces embrace varsity soccer.
With a bit more uncertainty for Davis and American Fork, who were pegged No. 1 and 2 in the Deseret News coaches preseason poll, 6A could have a more open feel to it this season with Layton, Pleasant Grove and Fremont rounding out the top five.
Layton is led by Erin Bailey who returns after recording 26 goals and 10 assists a year ago. The Lancers figure to be Davis’ biggest test in Region 1.
In Region 4, Dunn expects a battle every game. Lone Peak may be the front runner based on experience as it returns five players who were named either all-state second team and honorable mention. Keeper Eva Chenn is also back after being named first team.
Two straight trips to the finals, two runner-up trophies.
Too say that 5A preseason No. 1 Bonneville has a bitter taste in its mouth heading into the 2021 season would be an understatement.
“It’s constant in their heads. It’s a taste in their mouth they want to get out and they want to have a different result where they end up on top,” said Bonneville first-year coach Tyler Anderson, who was an assistant coach last year.
Last year’s heartbreak came in overtime to Olympus. With nine of 11 starters back from last year’s 17-3 team, and most of Bonneville’s key subs, a return trip to the final is certainly possible.
“We have a good group of seniors and juniors that will lead us this year and we’re just excited to get out there and see how things go,” said Anderson, who was previously the head coach at Bonneville from 2001 to 2004.
Among the top returns for Bonneville are first team all-staters Lexi Hansen and Gabby Carlson and second teamers Summer Diamond and Sadie Beardall.
Skyline edged region rival Olympus for the No. 2 spot in the preseason rankings as it returns key players Ali Swensen and Brianna Frey.
Graduation hit defending state champ Olympus pretty hard, but coach Jamie Evans believes the pieces to build on last year’s success are there.
“We have a good strong core group of returners. It will definitely be a different look, we’re not the same team and we won’t play the same style, but we definitely have the talent I believe to get us back to a high place in the region,” said Evans.
Leading the way is returning 5A MVP Emma Neff, who scored the OT game-winner against Bonneville.
Callie Droitsch is a returning all-state keeper for the Titans, while Kelly Bullock and Lizzie Dunn are two all-state key contributors back from last year’s team that ended a 24-year state title drought.
Murray and Maple Mountain round out the Deseret News preseason top five. The rankings figure to change a lot throughout the regular season in 5A, which features at least a dozen programs with the tradition and talent to be a factor.
One of the top storylines in 5A this season is the number of quality returning goal scorers. Murray’s Sammie Sofonia (40 goals), Springville’s Avery Frischknecht (29 goals), Maple Mountain’s Allie Fryer (26 goals) and Skyline’s Ali Swensen (24 goals) are all back this season.
Defending state champion Ridgeline heads into the 2021 season as the preseason No. 1 and plenty of talent to repeat, it’s just that coach Mark Thueson has no idea what that finished product will look like.
“We have 21 girls and every one of them could start,” said Thueson, who is entering is fourth season as Ridgeline head coach.
His best 11 will likely separate itself as the season progresses, but it’s that collective depth why Ridgeline is one of the frontrunners in 4A.
“These girls are focused on the right thing, how do we come together as a team. Team chemistry is huge. So when we start focusing on the right things then performance starts to elevate and then we elevate each other. There’s not a caustic competition, how do we make each other better, and these girls have embodied that for four years,” said Thueson.
Ridgeline’s top returning player from a year ago is junior defender Carly Eubanks, who was an all-state honorable mention.
Crimson Cliffs begins the season ranked No. 2 in the preseason rankings after a strong semifinal run a year ago for the second-year school. The program has a new head coach for year three, Kat Esplin, and she’s impressed but the group she inherited.
“It’s been really excited getting to know them. My first real experience with them was a camp this summer up at Layton and I was blown away by their talent. I heard when I got the job that I’d have an amazing team, and it seems to be true. They’re all working hard, they’re all trying to come together as they’re all from separate clubs around Southern Utah,” said Esplin.
Crimson Cliff’s strength should be in the attack as forward Jantzyn Losee and midfielder Kate Young both returning for their senior seasons after being named first-team all-state a year ago.
Rounding out the top five in the preseason rankings are Sky View, Mountain Crest and Snow Canyon.
With just 13 teams in 4A this year, the classification is certainly a bit more diluted than it was a year ago. Seven of the eight quarterfinalists, however, came from either Northern or Southern Utah, so most of the top-end talent remains in the classification.
Morgan won 17 games last season and lifted the state championship trophy, but coach Bryan Searle is quick to shrug off the notion that his team is favored to repeat in 3A.
He said that conversation should begin and end with Ogden, which is dropping down from a classification after a great runner-up finish in 4A a year ago.
“To have them come into the region, you better gear up for them and be ready to play against them. They’re an incredible team, and they’re getting some great freshman. They’re going to be crazy, crazy good,” said Searle.
In reality, preseason No. 1 Morgan and No. 2 Ogden both face some uncertainty this season.
Morgan graduated eight starters and nine seniors, while Ogden graduated nine seniors.
Success for both will depend on how quickly the newcomers adjust to their expanded roles on the squad.
“We’re happy with the team we have. It’s a little bit of a rebuilding year,” admitted Searle. “Not anyone really stands out on the team, I think this year we’re going to lean on more the whole team than any individual players like we’ve had in the past.”
The top returning players for Morgan are senior keeper Viana Johnson and junior forward Jayda Jones.
Ogden has a slight leg up in experience as it returns last year’s leading scorer Tori Kalista, who is poised for potentially an even bigger season
“I don’t think she’s missed a day of the summer stuff we’ve done, and a lot of that is she really wants to not only be good and perform, but she really wants to be a fun group to be a part of so she’s taking that role seriously,” said Ogden coach Ryan Robinson.
Many of her teammates will be underclassmen, which makes her leadership along with fellow senior defender Sae Obayashi all the more important.
Rounding out the coaches preseason top five are Judge Memorial, Real Salt Lake Academy and Manti.
From an experienced standpoint, Judge may have a leg up on everyone else in 3A as eight of its top contributors from last season were underclassman. Judge narrowly lost to Morgan in the semis a year ago, and new coach Eric Bumabate hopes to have his team peaking in October this year.
RSL Academy is jumping up to 3A after being a 2A runner-up last season.
Rowland Hall tied a state record by winning its four straight state championship a year ago, and with the talent returning this season a fifth-straight state title seems like an inevitability.
Eight of the nine Rowland Hall players who were named either all-state first team, second team or honorable mention are back this season, and the ninth player would be back Jada Crockett is instead focusing on track and trying to make the junior Olympics team.
On top of that returning dominance, last year’s 2A runner-up — RSL Academy — bumped up a classification to 3A dilutes the quality of competition as well.
Despite that fact, Rowland Hall coach Colette Jepson said her team isn’t taking anything for granted heading into the season.
“That’s the expectation that we put on ourselves, but nothing is given to us. In the state final we were down a significant part of the game and we hadn’t been down for a whole half until that state final game. We know that anything can happen in soccer,” said Jepson.
Rounding out the preseason top five are St. Joseph, Waterford, Parowan and Beaver.
Parowan and Millard were 2A semifinalists a year ago, while Maeser Prep also figures to play a factor in the 2A race as it drops down from 3A.