It’s not been a cake walk for the American Fork girls soccer team to defend its 2019 6A state title. There have been disappointments and losses — not to mention a global pandemic — along the way.
But, thanks to a 2-0 win over Fremont in the semifinals Tuesday afternoon at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, the Cavemen are right where they hoped they would be at this point in the season.
“It feels so good,” American Fork senior defender Kara Dickey said. “I’m so excited because it’s our senior year and all of us are best friends. We have been playing on this team for four years and are so excited to get to this point. We are here and it’s time to execute.”
Although they ended up doing enough to get the win, neither Dunn nor Dickey felt like the Cavemen played at the level they are capable of playing at.
“I didn’t expect this reaction right now,” American Fork head coach Derek Dunn said. “Like I told them, it’s bittersweet because we have a team that still wants to come and get better. Our team left the field knowing it didn’t give everything that was necessarily needed. We were just a little bit better than Fremont today.”
Dickey said there was a dropoff for the Cavemen players on the field, particularly in the second half.
“I’m just glad we were able to come out with the win so we are able to do better next game, play to our full potential,” Dickey said. “Hopefully we’ll play better, keep the ball better and play together. In the second half today, we didn’t have as much energy and didn’t move off the ball as much. In the back, we kind of got frantic and just kept trying to get it out. We got out of our rhythm.”
Fortunately, American Fork had already built a big enough lead to be able to get the win.
The first Caveman goal came in the 18th minute when American Fork built into the attacking third of the field, then blocked the ball when a Fremont defender got in and attempted to clear it.
The ricochet bounced into the Silverwolf penalty box where Caveman senior forward Addie Gardner was able to get to it. Her shot slotted just inside the far post to give American Fork the lead.
“The goal got us to where we needed to be,” Dunn said. “Addie having that confidence was big for us. She struggled a lot at the end of the season, so it’s great to know she’s back on form.”
The defending champs would double the lead 20 minutes later when senior Josie Shepherd was fouled just inside the Fremont box, earning a penalty kick.
Caveman sophomore Nicole Lewis drilled the shot to the left side and in, making the score 2-0.
While American Fork had the lead and a lot of possession, the Silverwolves did put together a couple of near-misses that might have changed the outcome.
In the first half, for example, Fremont had a had shot the just went over the top. The Silverwolves also had a shot dribbling toward the post that Caveman senior keeper Abby Bloxham had to dive to tip wide.
The best Fremont opportunity came in the 55th minute when a cross by senior Payten Ivins was flicked on beautifully by sophomore Brooklyn Robinson. It proved to be just a hair too high as the ball hit the crossbar and bounced out.
“The whole game changes if one of those goals go in,” Dunn said. “Our defense again this year came in and stepped up. Our defense is in a good spot right now, so I’ll take it.”
Even though there were some close calls, the American Fork defense managed to get the shutout and propel the Cavemen back to the finals.
“I’m really proud of Abby (Bloxham),” Dickey said. “She really made some big saves and came up clutch. It’s comforting that we were able to get that shutout to be able to go forward positively.”
She said the team better come ready to work as they prepare for the finals.
“At practice we’ve got to make sure to bring the intensity,” Dickey said. “We are capable of playing well. We’ve just got to do it. We have to make simple passes and play a little bit faster. If we pick it up and are the attackers, and work together as a team and not as individuals, then we will hopefully be fine.”
But given everything that has happened in 2020, Dunn is grateful his team made it to this point.
“This is by far the hardest season that I’ve ever had to coach or been a part of,” Dunn said. “My kids have done an amazing job following protocol. To have to go through this has been super-hard, but going to the final and having the opportunity to play at Rio Tinto Stadium again under the lights in front of our friends and family, not everyone in the country is doing that. We’re here again but there is more to it this year than we have ever had to go through.”
American Fork will face Davis for the championship at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy Friday at 8 p.m.