Lehi head coach Tim Graham said the Pioneers have been working all week on getting to the back post when on the attack.
He got some pretty substantial evidence in Tuesday’s nonregion home game against rival Westlake that Pioneer freshman Stephanie Roper listened.
In a contest that saw each team have moments where it seized control, the final play came down to Roper being where she needed to be.
With the score tied at 1-1 in the first overtime period, Lehi junior defender Katie Davis got control of the ball on the left side of the Thunder penalty box. She made a quick turn and lofted a gorgeous ball toward the back post.
There is a chance that ball would’ve gone into the net on its own — but Roper didn’t take any chances as she hammered it in to give the Pioneers the dramatic 2-1 overtime victory.
“You just have to go for it,” Roper said. “I knew if I didn’t I would get killed. That was the best feeling (to score that goal).”
Graham said he was thrilled with how his team held up under pressure.
“There were ebbs and flows but the thing that was nice was that they kept their composure and they fought to the end,” Graham said. “We’ve been talking all summer about how we need to just fight. I thought we dominated a lot of the game but we got on our heels. Something we didn’t have last year was fire — and we had the fire tonight.”
Lehi had the early advantage, including tallying a penalty kick by sophomore forward Ally Dahl in the first half to go up 1-0.
The Pioneers had pretty good possession but couldn’t find a way to get the ball in the back of the net and Westlake wasn’t backing down.
The Thunder needed 72 minutes of action before they found the opening to answer but finally got the equalizer on a great shot from outside the box.
A few minutes later, Westlake had another shot that almost sealed the victory but it hit off the post and bounced out.
“It was dicey,” Graham said. “They had some great shots but we stayed in there. We hunkered down, weathered the storm and we came back with a vengeance. It was awesome.”
With the score tied, the game went into the golden-goal extra periods with both teams riding a huge wave of adrenaline and the fans going nuts on both sides.
“It was crazy and tiring,” Roper said. “It was hard but it was awesome. It’s so great to be part of this team.”
As time was winding down in the first overtime, however, the big break was created by the home team.
“I knew it was a beautiful ball,” Graham said. “We actually missed one right before that but that time Stephanie was right there and put it in the back of the net. It was beautiful. It couldn’t have been better.”
There was a moment of uncertainty on both sidelines as the officials conferred to ensure there hadn’t been an offsides violation on the play but in the end signaled that the game was over.
The Pioneers finally enjoyed the thrill of victory but the Westlake players also showed tremendous sportsmanship, congratulating the victors with hugs and smiles for their friends and neighbors.
Both teams know it is still early in the season and they want to keep getting better.
“We just need to keep up energy,” Roper said. “If we play our hardest, then we will do our best.”
Lehi (2-0) next heads to Cedar Valley to play the Aviators on Thursday at 6 p.m. while Westlake (2-1) goes to Copper Hills on the same day for a 3:15 p.m. contest