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High school soccer: American Fork and Davis win to set up rematch of 6A state championship

American Fork shut out Fremont while Davis blasted past Pleasant Grove during Tuesday’s semifinal action

American Fork’s Nicole Lewis, left, and Ruby Hladek hug after Lewis scored on a penalty kick, putting their team up 2-0 over Fremont, in a 6A girls soccer semifinal game at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020.
American Fork’s Nicole Lewis, left, and Ruby Hladek hug after Lewis scored on a penalty kick, putting their team up 2-0 over Fremont, in a 6A girls soccer semifinal game at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — It was hard to tell American Fork coach Derek Dunn was pleased with the prospect of his team advancing to the state championship match until he confirmed that he was.

A little perturbed and absolutely anxious regarding his team’s prospects, Dunn approached the media following his team’s 2-0 blanking of Fremont in the 6A semifinal round not exactly handing out lollipops.

“I’m happy, but I can’t look at you and tell you this was the performance I expected of (our) team in the semifinal,” Dunn said.

Of course a lot is to be expected of the defending state champion, although Dunn’s consternation came about mostly due to knowing exactly what the Cavemen defeated. Due to some COVID quarantines and other injury issues, the Silverwolves weren’t playing at full strength — a fact not lost on Dunn, although his team entered Tuesday’s match without that knowledge.

“(Fremont) had nothing to lose, so they brought it, but we were just a little bit better today,” Dunn said.

The two teams went scoreless until the 18th minute when American Fork’s Addie Gardner found the back of the net to give her team a key early lead.

“It gets us into where we needed to be,” Dunn said of Gardner landing the first blow. “She’s struggled a bit at the end of the season, but to know she’s back on form — I’m going to take that. Absolutely I’m going to take that.”

In the second half it was Nicole Lewis scoring on a PK opportunity with just 2:13 remaining the second half, giving the Cavemen the 2-0 lead, which proved to be the final.

Of course any shutout win should highlight the defensive effort, with American Fork goalkeeper shining throughout, making several standout saves.

“Abby Bloxham at goal came up big today,” Dunn said. “She made great saves at the beginning, and really the whole game changes if those goals go in that she doesn’t block.”

Regardless of the difficulty of getting through Tuesday’s match, Dunn left Rio Tinto proud of what his team has accomplished up to this point of the season, in large part due to its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is by far the hardest season I’ve had to coach and be a part of,” Dunn said. “My kids have done an amazing job following protocol. ... To go through this and to have to do this has just been super hard. But to go to this final and having the opportunity to be here and play Friday night under the lights in front of our friends and family — not everyone in the country (has this opportunity) — we’re just grateful to be able to do this.”

American Fork’s opponent in the 6A championship will be Davis, the same team it defeated last season for the championship.

The Darts advanced to the final match by smoking past Pleasant Grove 4-1 in which two goals scored just over a minute apart proved pivotal.

The first goal game off the foot of Alizabeth Arevalo, who was the beneficiary of a hard shot sent in that leaked to her right in front of the goal with a full 33:21 left in the first half. Then, just over a minute later came another goal, this one from Grace Nicol for a satisfying 2-0 early lead.

“It was great because we came out a little jittery the first five minutes,” said Davis coach Souli Phongsavath. “So to get those goals in the first 10 minutes or so really helped us to settle down and play our game.”

Both Davis players managed goals again later, with Nicol’s scoring shot standing out as she neatly placed a ball into the back of the net from just outside the penalty box with time winding down in the first half.

“She’s struggled with that shot all season, when last year she scored on that shot almost once a game,” Phongsavath said. “So I think she’s finding her range at the right time for us.”

Pleasant Grove’s lone goal came from CC Norman with just over 26 minutes remaining.

Davis will square off against American Fork on Friday with Davis hoping to flip the tables this time around.

“I’m so proud of the girls for doing (it), especially for how it ended last year” Phongsavath said of returning to the championship match. “For them to fight through injuries and a weird year with COVID and what not — hopefully we can get some redemption.”