It just seems right.
For 20 years, Tooele was the standard-bearer for Utah high school softball, winning nine state championships in that span. Six of those came between 2003 and 2010, and it seemed the titles would just keep coming.
Little did they know that Saturday’s championship win over Spanish Fork would be nearly a decade in the making. The Buffaloes hadn’t so much as played in the championship game since 2011, when current coach Marissa Lowry was a senior. They’d watched as other programs — Spanish Fork, Bear River, Stansbury and Grantsville among them — raised the big trophy. But as the sun set over Utah Lake on Saturday evening, the Buffs were right back where they belonged — atop Class 4A, and arguably atop the entire Utah high school softball landscape.
This was a special group of Buffaloes. Seniors Amber Lujan and Hope Weight had seen just about every possible situation in their four years at THS. But it was the underclassmen that made Tooele go — juniors Bryerly Avina and Natalee Bevan and sophomores Madi Baker, Kate Hogan, Attlyn Johnston, Paige Rydalch and Kennedie Anderson were all regular starters.
That means that the Buffaloes are set up to be one of the top teams in the state for years to come. Could this be the beginning of another Tooele dynasty — one that rivals the Buffs’ success of the early 2000s?
I present to you Exhibit A as evidence that it not only can be the start of something special, but it likely will be. That’s A, as in Tooele ace pitcher Attlyn Johnston. If she’s not the Class 4A Most Valuable Player and a strong candidate for overall state Player of the Year honors, then I don’t know what to tell you. She simply dominated teams all season long. The best part for the Buffs? She’s got two more years in purple after capping her sophomore season with a state championship.
I’ve been around enough championship-winning softball teams over the years to know that great pitching is the key to success. Tooele’s pitching is somehow better than great with Johnston in the circle.
And, oh, by the way, the Buffs are still dangerous offensively. Exhibit B: Bryerly Avina. When Avina hits a home run, she leaves no doubt. When she gets a base hit, she’s a terror on the basepaths with her speed. Baker, Hogan, Anderson, Rydalch and Bevan all have power as well. The scary thing? I don’t know that we’ve seen the best out of these young players yet. They’ll soon receive their state championship rings, and then they’ll somehow be even better next year.
Look out, Beehive State. The Buffaloes are back on top, and it looks like they’ll be staying there for a while.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He was impressed by Tooele’s resolve in winning its record-tying 10th state championship. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.