Tooele County’s three high school girls soccer teams all will officially kick off their 2018 seasons within the next week, and they all believe they have a chance to make some noise this year.
In Region 11, Stansbury hopes to return to the postseason after missing out in its first year in Class 4A. It won’t be easy, as the region includes 2017 Class 4A runner-up Bonneville, 2016 Class 3A state champion Juan Diego, a strong Ogden squad and a Park City team that seems to be a perennial thorn in the Stallions’ side.
Tooele’s expectations are a bit more modest, as the Buffaloes lost 15 seniors to graduation from last year’s squad. Coach Stephen Duggan’s team may well be the most inexperienced bunch in Class 4A, and will have a tough schedule to contend with as it learns what varsity-level soccer is all about. Improvement will be the measure of success for the Buffs in 2018.
In Grantsville, the Cowboys opened tryouts for the upcoming season on Monday afternoon as they look to build on their most successful season in program history. GHS came within a goal of beating Manti on the road in last year’s Class 3A quarterfinals, and expects to make it at least that far again this year.
The Cowboys lost a number of key pieces from last year’s state quarterfinalists to graduation, but coach Travis Lowry has faith in the players he has coming back this season.
“We have some young, inexperienced players, but I think they’re skilled,” Lowry said. “It’s going to be a little bit slower, but by the halfway point, I think we’re going to be strong where we lost seniors last year.”
The Cowboys have plenty of experience in the back, led by senior Erin Shipman and Second Team All-State selection Talia Hawke. Junior Laura Sandberg, a mainstay on the back line a year ago, will move up to midfield this season.
“Our defense will be stout again,” Lowry said. “I think they got a taste in their mouth and they’re excited.”
Of course, the key to the Cowboys’ success will be sophomore striker Whitney Wangsgard. She took Class 3A by storm last season, leading the entire state of Utah with 50 goals as a freshman, and she may be even better this year.
“She’s had an amazing club season,” Lowry said. “She should actually be stronger. Hopefully, she’ll even grow into her speed a little more.”
Grantsville opens its season Aug. 16 at Juab. The Cowboys’ first home game is Aug. 21 against Cyprus.
The Stallions have an experienced squad coming back in 2018 with eight seniors — a squad that still has a bitter taste in its mouth after missing the postseason last year.
“Each coach kind of starts off the year with the hope that, ‘hey, everyone’s undefeated right now, so let’s go out there and see what we can do,’” Stansbury coach Jeremy Alverson said.
Stansbury has a lot of firepower coming back this season, led by four-year starter Mackenzie Landward. She has 58 goals and nine assists in 51 career games for the Stallions, including 21 goals last year.
“We’re lucky to have three or four girls who have dedicated themselves to soccer and have chances at scholarships,” Alverson said. “(Landward) is one of the top goalscorers in 4A.”
She will be joined by Maddy Graber (20 career goals) and McCall Littlefield (three goals, 11 assists last season) as part of what could be a potent attack.
The Stallions’ defense will be anchored by Emily Franz, who will serve as a captain this year after playing in 36 games over the past two seasons.
Stansbury expects to be in contention for a postseason berth this year, but it won’t be easy, Alverson admitted.
“The key for us will be defensively,” he said. “I believe if our defense keeps us competitive, I’m pretty confident that we’ll do all right.”
The Stallions open the season Wednesday at Taylorsville. Their first home game is Thursday against Bear River.
The Buffaloes have some talent, but they don’t have much in the way of experience. That could lead to some struggles early in the season.
“We’ve definitely got to consolidate,” Duggan said. “The past three years, we’ve been relatively successful in terms of the program. We didn’t just graduate seniors — we graduated an entire team, and that’s a huge void to fill.”
Sydnee Bird, Whitney Murray and Mallory Searle all have some varsity playing experience, but this season will mark the first time they’ve been full-time starters. Maddy Lyman will be in her first season as the Buffs’ starting goalkeeper.
Tooele does have a gamebreaker in the form of junior Makenna McCloy, however. The speedster was a dangerous scoring threat for the Buffs the past two years, and will take on a starring role this year.
“Makenna’s going to be a big player for us,” Duggan said. “That’s something she’s used to.”
However, the schedule won’t do the Buffaloes any favors early in the season. After preseason games against Hunter, Juab, Summit Academy and Kearns, Tooele opens Region 11 play at home against Bonneville, followed by a road game against Juan Diego, a home game against Ogden and a road game against Park City. All four of those region foes reached the postseason in 2017.
“It’s an absolute baptism of fire,” Duggan said. “There will be that shock-and-awe issue, because a lot of the girls are inexperienced and they might not realize just how hard it is out there. When you actually get out there and you’re playing at that level, it can come as a shock.”
The Buffs will host Hunter on Thursday afternoon.