Oct. 11, 2018, is a date that the American Fork girls soccer team hates to remember.
The talented Cavemen, who had only lost once all season, saw their 6A repeat championship hopes evaporate when they were upset at home in the quarterfinals, 2-1, by Davis.
The 2019 American Fork squad took the lessons from that defeat to heart and focused on its strength of togetherness and defense, resulting in an impressive run to Friday’s 6A state championship game.
But, once again, the Cavemen would have to go through Davis.
“It was post-traumatic stress disorder this morning,” American Fork senior keeper Haven Empey said. “I had to shake it off a little bit. All respect goes to Davis. They are a phenomenal team and we knew they were going to give us a run.”
Caveman head coach Derek Dunn said that the team had prepared its strategy based around knowing how good the Darts are defensively.
“We told them that Davis is good and packs in the middle, so we had to be patient,” Dunn said. “We learned from last year that patience is going to open things up, that they are going to give us opportunities and we have to create them. Defensively, I said stay home and let’s see what we get.”
The final proved to be just such a defensive struggle with scoring opportunities coming at a premium. But American Fork was OK with that.
“All the credit for all of the games goes to my defense,” Empey said. “We’ve had a stellar season with them and they’ve worked so hard. They haven’t needed me much but when they need me I make sure they know I’m there and I’m ready to do my part. They were just playing so phenomenal.”
Victory came down to one devastating strike by the Cavemen, a perfect through-ball from senior midfielder Jordyn Roth to junior forward Addie Gardner, who slid the ball past the lunging Davis keeper for the only goal in the 1-0 win.
“I knew I had to go give everything I had to go get in front of it,” Gardner said. “Then I just tried to place it and it worked out. The feeling was incredible. You couldn’t wish for anything else, especially scoring in the finals to help us win. It’s the best.”
That would be all the determined American Fork defense would need as it only allowed a few long Dart shots in the entire contest. Only one of those attempts was truly dangerous, requiring Empey to make a great save and push the ball over the net.
“We all have each others’ backs,” said Caveman senior defender Ragan Fuller. “We all want to work for each other. Once we really clicked as a defensive line and as a defensive team, we were super successful. I couldn’t be happier with my back line.”
She said that the American Fork motto of “make a mess” resonates with the backline mentality.
“As a defense, you don’t want the other team to get in a groove,” Fuller said. “You don’t want them to get a shot off or a cross or anything. That mentality makes you want to fight for every single ball, even when your legs are dead and you can’t move anymore. It makes you want to push harder.”
Empey explained that another theme for American Fork this year has been having everyone be on the same page.
“Our goal all season was to do it as a pack,” Empey said. “We have a wolf as one of our mottos on our wristbands to show that we are one pack. In order to win, we have to do it together. It feels so good to be part of a team that is just a family.”
Dunn said that he referenced the pack mentality with the girls because it requires trust and cooperation.
“Everything a pack does to survive is together,” Dunn said. “In order for us to survive and keep winning, we had to stay together.”
The team connection and the revenge factor made hearing the final countdown all the sweeter for the Cavemen.
“It felt amazing,” Fuller said. “I’ve been on the side when it hasn’t gone our way. It was the best feeling knowing you worked your hardest and it paid off. I was incredible and I’ll never forget it.”
Dunn said he had a good feeling about how things would go before the game.
“They were calm and collected this morning when they had breakfast,” Dunn said. “You could just see it in their eyes and it was amazing. It was sweet to win, and to do it against the team that knocked you out, it’s even better.”
Gardner said she felt “on top of the world.”
“I’m so glad to be here with my best friends and have this opportunity,” she said. “It’s better than anything. It’s such a great feeling.”