The Grantsville girls soccer team’s 6-3 win over American Leadership Academy in the opening round of the Class 3A state tournament on Wednesday brought out a lot of emotion.
It was the Cowboys’ first postseason victory in program history. Freshman Whitney Wangsgard scored three times, junior Talia Hawke had two goals on two picture-perfect free kicks and Layne Holmes scored a crucial rebound goal to help Grantsville fend off an ALA rally in the second half.
But the Cowboys were playing for something more. Senior captain Sarah Ellett’s father, Bob, lost his battle with cancer just a few days earlier. Each of her teammates had her jersey number — 24 — written on their leg in tribute to her and her family, and Ellett played one of her best games to help her team advance to the quarterfinals.
“Winning for Sarah was the most important thing for us,” Wangsgard said. “We played hard for Sarah today.”
Grantsville (10-4-1), the No. 3 seed from Region 13, needed no time at all to jump in front of the Eagles (5-9-1), as Hawke buried a long free kick just over half a minute into the contest. Ellett nearly doubled the lead in the third minute as her header off a corner kick just missed the right post.
Everything seemed to be going perfectly for Grantsville in the early going until a bad clearing attempt allowed ALA’s Emma Cook to come up with the game-tying goal in the sixth minute.
“I think some of the mistakes we made were from trying too hard,” Grantsville coach Travis Lowry said. “There were a lot of emotions and a lot of people trying real hard for Sarah. She’s our vocal leader.”
The Cowboys quickly got their ship righted, however. Wangsgard, the state’s leading goal scorer, took a through ball from Hawke and scored on the resulting partial breakaway in the 13th minute. Two minutes later, she took a picture-perfect pass from Ellett and scored on another breakaway to put Grantsville up 3-1, electrifying the large crowd.
“I’m just so happy that it’s been this way, but I couldn’t do it without any of my teammates,” Wangsgard said. “I wouldn’t have half my goals without my teammates and all their assists. It’s just been great.”
Neither team scored again for the next 40 minutes, until Hawke scored on another free kick in the 55th minute to put Grantsville up 4-1. The Cowboys appeared well on their way to their first playoff win, but the Eagles didn’t go away.
First, Grantsville goalkeeper Savannah Thomas received a yellow card for a hard challenge on an ALA player in the 57th minute, giving the Eagles a penalty kick. ALA’s Rebekah Carroll converted on the attempt to cut Grantsville’s lead to 4-2.
After Wangsgard missed wide on a breakaway in the 60th minute, ALA’s Eliza Carlisle cut the lead to a single goal on a rebound in the 61st minute.
“I thought we were playing well, so I thought (ALA) would say, ‘OK, we came here, we’re done,’” Lowry said. “But they didn’t. I was impressed. I think maybe we relaxed and we thought we had it.”
But any concern quickly went away in the 64th minute, when Holmes took advantage of a bobbled rebound and scored to put Grantsville up 5-3. Wangsgard completed her hat trick with her 43rd goal of the season in the 75th minute to put the game out of reach.
The Cowboys will travel to Manti on Saturday afternoon to face the Region 15 champion Templars in a state quarterfinal game. The match is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.