Sometimes a tough situation can end up having stunning results.

Consider what happened to the American Fork girls soccer team when an injury forced Caveman head coach Derek Dunn to move Ragan Fuller to the center back position.

“We had an injury so we just put her in and she did a good job. I looked at her and said, ‘you just earned your spot for the rest of the time’ and she said, ‘well, next time I will do bad,’” Dunn said. “It was kind of funny but if you know Ragan she would never do that. She wasn’t sold on it by any means. I had to do some convincing but at the end of the day she said she would do whatever she could for the team. That’s kind of Ragan’s mentality.”

It helped that Fuller had the defensive mindset required to be successful in the back.

“I’ve been playing soccer since I was 5 or 6-years-old,” Fuller said. “I’ve always been a defender and I couldn’t imagine playing anywhere else. My oldest sister Whitney started as a defender. With growing up in my family and how we were raised, it was embedded in me to be a defender and be physical.”

Two years later, Fuller — still at center back — proved to be the key piece in getting American Fork through a difficult playoff run, resulting in the Caveman winning the 2019 6A state title.

“The final was crazy and so was the semifinal,” Fuller said. “To end that way, knowing how strong the defense played, even if we lost I would’ve been so proud of the defense and the team. Finishing out like that was an incredible feeling. We did everything we could for our team and that led to success. That makes everything worth it.”

For her leadership, determination and talent, the Daily Herald is pleased to name Fuller the 2019 Utah Valley Girls Soccer Player of the Year.

“It was actually really surprising to be honored because normally defenders don’t get recognized,” Fuller said. “It’s been a defensive year for our team but it doesn’t start with the backline. It starts with the forwards and midfielders and we just clean up behind them. It was a team effort and I couldn’t have done it without them pushing me at practice and at games. Still, it’s really cool to be rewarded for that.”

Dunn said that Fuller earned the recognition with her performance on the field.

“She stepped up in every possible way,” Dunn said. “Without Ragan, I don’t know if the back line is what it turned out to be. Ragan stepped it up and was a leader. I don’t even know what to say. She is the center of all centers. It’s great to see her get the credit she deserves. I’m just super-excited for her and I can’t wait to see what she does at the next level.”

American Fork had an excellent team in 2018 but Fuller got hurt and had to watch from the sidelines when the Cavemen got upset in the quarterfinals by Davis. With some incredible players graduating, Fuller said she knew the team would need to develop its own identity in 2019.

“It was unknown who was coming in and the potential we had,” the American Fork senior said. “It puts you a little on edge when don’t know those things. We had a young team but we still had a lot of talent — but we had to use the talent in a different way. When we were successful it came from everyone being a team player. Derek (Dunn) pushed it in practice and at team meetings, saying everyone has a part to contribute, big or small. That was a big part of our success this year.”

The team-first mentality is something that resonates with a defender, since each backline player depends so much on the others. The Cavemen became focused on making things difficult for opponents.

“We were working on defensive positioning and how I expected certain things,” Dunn said. “I said, ‘The thing I want you to do is that I want you guys to make a mess in here. Don’t make it easy for them.’ It wasn’t something I thought we would make into a slogan or a motto, but the girls took it to heart and they really made a mess of everything they possibly could.”

Fuller and her defensive counterparts made that their daily objective.

“As a defense we would line up on the penalty box before each half and we said to each other, ‘let’s give our team a chance,’” Fuller said. “I think that is one of my favorite takeaways from this season. As a defense, we didn’t want to let the team or ourselves down.”

That meant being physical and relentless, something that Fuller excelled at.

“She is the glue,” Dunn said. “She is very vocal. If you were ever just walking by a soccer field, you could hear her. She is the loud one. She is vicious. She is the player you want on your team, not one you are playing against.”

He said that Fuller is completely different than that off the field, calling her one of the most loving and caring people you could ever meet.

Fuller will now be taking both her on-field talent and her kind personality to the University of Utah, where she plans to continue her soccer career.

“It’s a blessing to know I’m going to an amazing school and have an opportunity to keep improving and keep learning,” Fuller said.

Dunn hopes that Fuller continues to be the player he has known at American Fork in the last few years.

“The biggest advice I’d probably give her is to take what you learn from other people and put it into your schooling and life in college,” Dunn said. “I would say don’t change. Be the Ragan that everyone knows.”

Dunn has advice of her own for the next generation of high school soccer players.

“First, learn to respect yourself, your teammates, your coaches and the game,” Fuller said. “I started as a freshman on varsity and I was nervous but I knew the only way to be successful was to be a sponge and learn everything I could. Second would be work for everything you are given. Nothing is guaranteed. That’s why we had such a strong drive this year, because losing put everything in perspective. All you can count on is your effort and what you put into things.”

Daily Herald sports reporter Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or jlloyd@heraldextra.com. Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.

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