For years, girls soccer has been an afterthought in Tooele County. It had served mainly as something to do between the end of the previous softball and track seasons and the start of basketball in the winter.
That’s definitely not the case anymore.
Stansbury nearly completed an improbable comeback against eventual Class 3A runner-up Logan in the state quarterfinals, while Tooele played semifinalist Ridgeline to a stalemate until the Riverhawks capitalized on a late penalty kick. A win by either Tooele or Stansbury would have sent them to the semis. A win by both would have pitted the two teams against each other, and guaranteed one of them a state trophy.
That is hard to believe given the state of Tooele County girls soccer in the not-too-distant past.
Tooele had fallen on hard times, having not won a postseason game since 1997 — or before any of the players on the 2016 roster were born. The Buffs were at nearly rock-bottom two years ago when coach Stephen Duggan took over, but Tooele was among the top teams in Class 3A this season with a team made up mainly of underclassmen.
While the Utah High School Activities Association’s realignment plan likely means the Buffaloes will make the jump to Class 4A next year, their experience from this season will prove invaluable as they try to take the next step. With leading scorer McKenna Banks coming back, as well as twins Abby and Emily Webber patrolling the midfield, look for Tooele to be right back in the thick of things.
Stansbury, the top program in Tooele County year-in and year-out, suddenly has company. That said, the Stallions return a ton of talent next season, including scorers Mackenzie Landward and Maddy Graber, and goalkeeper Kirsten Gaillard, and will be among the top teams once again in their new region. As it is, Stansbury almost erased a four-goal halftime deficit in this year’s quarterfinals against defending state champion Logan on the road, proving the Stallions aren’t afraid of anybody.
But one team that flew underneath the radar this season that should be confident going into 2017 is Grantsville. No longer will the Cowboys have to face teams from schools three times their size in region play. GHS was so undermanned that the Cowboys didn’t often get the chance to play junior-varsity games, robbing their younger players of valuable playing time. But the Cowboys, led by the likes of Ashley Wangsgard, Sarah Ellett and goalkeeper Savannah Thomas, among others, should be just fine in the new Class 3A, which likely will include some of the bigger schools from the current Class 2A to make for a more level playing field.
The success of Tooele County’s three schools on the soccer pitch can only help to influence younger girls to take up the sport. The crowds along the sidelines of local matches this season were larger than any I’ve seen for a girls soccer game before — and I had the opportunity to cover some of the best high-school soccer in the country when I lived in southern California a few years ago.
Tooele County is embracing the sport. Soon, one of its teams may be embracing a state trophy.
Darren Vaughan is the community news editor for the Transcript Bulletin. He could use some pointers from local varsity soccer coaches Stephen Duggan, Jeremy Alverson, Travis Lowry and Jacob Jones to refine his own soccer skills. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.