Every high school state championship team brings together a combination of stories and experiences, something that is certainly the case for the American Fork girls soccer squad.
Would the Cavemen have won the 6A state title on Friday at Rio Tinto Stadium without junior forward Addie Gardner battling through a sore ankle in the finals to score the only goal?
How big of an impact did the American Fork student section play in the Caveman victory? Two years ago when American Fork won its first title it was during fall break so the numbers were diminished, while this year the word was that six buses were needed to bring the student supporters to Sandy.
Then there was the always-animated head coach of American Fork, Derek Dunn, who got to have his little boy go on the field after the title and score a goal while the girls cheered, just like he did two years ago.
But perhaps the most dynamic story was that of Caveman senior keeper Haven Empey.
Even though she wasn’t called on to make many tough saves in the 1-0 victory over Davis on Friday, Empey clearly played a huge role in the success of the team both in the championship and throughout the season.
“Haven is honestly the backbone of our team,” American Fork senior defender Ragan Fuller said after the game. “She puts in all the work and is committed at every practice. She’s always optimistic. You’ll never hear her say a negative thing ever. Her goals are beyond what any of us think we can do. She is always there pushing everyone and herself.”
But while Empey brings fiery competitiveness to the field, she also understands how to encourage and build those around her.
After the Cavemen had fulfilled their goal of winning the state title and were ecstatically celebrating, Empey was the one who left the jubilant mass of American Fork teammates to go hug and console the tearful Dart keeper who was dejectedly walking off the field.
That’s just the type of person Empey is.
“The biggest word to describe her is commitment,” Dunn said. “She stuck wit this program since Day 1. The whole Empey family has. They have come through American Fork and stayed committed. They are absolutely amazing. Haven is going to be missed. She’s done a great job.”
It hasn’t been an easy time for the Caveman senior. When her family moved a couple of years ago, she had to decide whether she would be going with them or staying at American Fork.
She said Friday that her decision to stay and all of the sacrifices seemed worth it after the team was able to achieve its dreams.
“To finish my senior year off like that, is their anything better?” Empey said with emotion choking her up a little bit. “I don’t think so. We’re finishing at the very top of what we can do. It wasn’t an easy decision to make. My dad was able to fly in this morning and that meant so much to me. It feels all worth it because we finished what we knew we could do.”
Having her dad, Mike Empey, in the crowd to watch the finals was special for both father and daughter.
“She worked so hard to get to this point in her career,” Mike Empey said. “It didn’t make sense to relocate her to somewhere where soccer isn’t that strong and wouldn’t give her an opportunity to keep doing what she was doing. But it’s been worth it now. It’s fun to see her with her team and win a state championship. It’s a great experience and she’ll always remember that.”
Mike Empey spent time coaching football at American Fork and so he understands just how valuable that experience is for young athletes.
“This American Fork community has been awesome for my family,” Mike Empey said. “All of my kids have gone to American Fork High School. We are such a tight-knit community and to see everyone here supporting the team, it’s awesome. High school sports is such a community activity. Sponsors, neighbors, coaches, teachers, friends, you are with your community to compete. It has an element of purity to it. Championships mean a lot because you get validation from your community.”