Westlake senior boys soccer players Zach Lifferth and Alex Fritcher thought about what 2020 might have been as they looked around at their celebrating teammates on Saturday.
“We showed we are the best team in the state after this tournament,” Lifferth said.
The Thunder would’ve loved to have seen what they could’ve done in the 6A state tournament in 2020 but since that was canceled as part of efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, they instead dominated the Pomp Division of the Graduation Cup that took place in Farmington this past week.
“We just wanted to stay focused,” Lifferth said. “You could easily come in thinking that this isn’t state and lose in the first round. We came in with the goal to win it and we achieved that goal.”
Westlake ended up winning all five games it played, capping the week with a solid 3-1 victory over Corner Canyon in Saturday’s championship.
“It’s pretty sweet to go out on top our senior year,” Fritcher said. “It sucks that it’s not state but at least we got something so we could go out on top. We can look back on our senior year at a fun tournament and a fun experience. I’m glad we were able to do it and able to get that win.”
Thunder head coach Don Bastian said it felt great to see his team be able to play so well.
“It’s really exciting,” Bastian said. “They keep asking if they can get state rings because they wanted the state tournament. Instead they are playing here — but they are very happy to have played.”
The reality was that the teams knew it would be tough to play at a high level after a full week of games, particularly after being so limited in their ability to train for the past few months.
“Quarantine really hurt our fitness,” Fritcher said. “We were just trying to get as fit as we can because no one is completely fit for this tournament. We were just trying to get back in shape, get our touch back and get ready for the tournament.”
The Thunder wanted to play smart in Saturday’s final to try to save their strength for when they needed it.
“We changed our game plan to trying to hold the ball more so we didn’t tire ourselves out,” Fritcher said. “We didn’t have that many subs for the final game and our legs were dead, so we just wanted to keep the ball as much as we could.”
Corner Canyon had the early opportunities, including a shot that hit just outside the post.
“We possessed well and owned the game well but we didn’t really get in the full swing of things until 10 minutes into the game,” Bastian said. “Then Kam scored and we’re able to open up.”
In the 12th minute, Thunder senior Kamden Beck timed his run perfectly on a through ball from junior Braxton Bergholm and got behind the Charger defense. He then finished the one-on-one opportunity to give Westlake the lead.
“Getting the first goal is huge,” Lifferth said. “After that we were in control of the game. They had to chase us the rest of the game, so getting that first goal was huge.”
Lifferth then extended the lead by finding the net twice in the next 15 minutes. He scored off a pass from junior Landon Huebner in the 15th minute, then blasted in another goal off an assist from junior Mason Bangerter.
That gave Westlake an overwhelming lead but Corner Canyon kept trying to rally.
The Chargers got a goal off a beautiful set-piece header in the 48th minute and had a couple of opportunities to get closer, but the Thunder defense and junior keeper Parker Allen refused to let Corner Canyon back in the game.
When the final whistle blew, Westlake got to savor ending with a victory.
Bastian said that the thing that makes this Thunder squad special is its sense of camaraderie.
“They are friends with one another,” Bastian said. “If you want to find one of the boys on a weekend, you call one of them and you’ll find where they all are. That’s what makes them special. They are a very tight-knit group of boys who have came through the high school.”
Lifferth and Fritchner said they are glad they got this opportunity with the other seniors before life moves on to other things.
“All these seniors are like brothers,” Fritcher said. “We hang out every day and have relationships that go beyond soccer. It’s sad to see everyone go but it’s exciting. We’ll see everyone in college and maybe play against each other or even on the same team. We’ll see what the next thing holds for us.”
Lifferth said: “We’ve been playing with the majority of these guys since we were 8 or 10 years old. It’s sad to leave but we are also excited to start the next chapter of our lives.”
Both are proud of the standard they have set for future Thunder boys soccer teams.
“It means a lot because like four years ago Westlake was thought of as a pushover,” Lifferth said. “Now everyone has to play their best game when they come up against us. It’s cool to have turned around a program in just a few years.”
Fritcher said he hopes to see future teams continue to be successful.
“It’s exciting to leave a legacy and set the bar high,” Fritcher said. “We want to push other kids to be better. Maybe we can push them hard enough that they can make it to the next level, reach more goals, maybe even take state next year. It feels good to set the bar and make them better players.”