High school sports frequently requires teams to learn about overcoming adversity.
Both the Maple Mountain and Timpanogos girls soccer teams faced that fact as they battled in Thursday’s 5A quarterfinal game in Orem.
The Golden Eagles were missing three starters, while the Timberwolves had a starter get hurt in the last game, lost another at the end of the first half and lost a third when she received a red card midway through the second half.
Even though the challenges were significant for both squads, Maple Mountain had an advantage.
The Golden Eagles had been there before.
Injuries played a big factor in Maple Mountain’s tough start to the 2019 season but it forced the Golden Eagles to develop their depth.
That paid off on Thursday as every player rose to the challenge and helped Maple Mountain secure the 2-0 victory and a spot in the 5A semifinals.
“We played really well,” Golden Eagle head coach Craig LaMont said. “We started slow and they outplayed us for a lot of the first half. Then we evened it up and in the second half we were on fire. We wanted to stay defensive-minded and our counterattack started working. I’m super-proud of everyone.”
Maple Mountain was perilously close to having to go deeper on its bench when — after a scoreless first half — senior forward Paola Garcia made a hard challenge and was whistled for a foul.
Since she had received a yellow card earlier in the game, if the referee deemed her challenge to be reckless enough to be carded again than she would be removed from the game.
“I was conscious of how I needed to act,” Garcia said. “Our team has a reputation for fouling and getting cards. I knew I had to not react and just keep playing.”
Her presence on the field always makes a difference for the Golden Eagles but in this case it was even more significant.
In the 45th minute, she was able to get to a ball that had been deflected into the Timpanogos penalty box and drilled it in to seize control for the visitors.
“I knew I had the opportunity to make a run in,” Garcia said. “I got the ball at a perfect angle. It was really easy.”
Although Maple Mountain tacked on an insurance goal in the 68th minute when sophomore midfielder Cesia Swain got a rebound and put it in, the first goal would’ve been all the resurgent Golden Eagle defense would’ve needed to get the win.
“We started the season with four of our starters hurt but our coaches worked to run defensive sessions,” LaMont said. “When our injured players started coming back, we had great starters and backups. They all knew how to play. In the last five or six games, we’ve only allowed like one goal.”
With the Timberwolves losing both center defenders — one to the injury and one to the red card — Timpanogos found itself searching for answers as they tried to follow its game plan.
“We struggled in front of the net,” Timberwolf head coach Natalyn Lewis said. “We controlled the possession in the first half but it was harder in the second half. We decided to rearrange things and it wasn’t the right decision.”
She said that even though the loss ends Timpanogos’s season, her team has plenty to be proud of.
“We started region with a loss to Timpview and didn’t lose again until today,” Lewis said. “We won the region title, which was one of our goals since we didn’t do that last year. We made advancements this year and it was a very successful season.”
Maple Mountain won its third straight game in the playoffs and appears to be peaking at the right time.
“The biggest mistake we could make is to overlook the team we play next because we beat them earlier in the season,” LaMont said. “We are confident but we can’t look past anyone.”
The Golden Eagles will face Bonneville in the 5A semifinals at Juan Diego High School in Draper on Oct. 22 at 1:30 p.m.
“I’m so excited,” Garcia said. “This is what we wanted from the beginning of the season. We know how we have to play and what we need to do.”