It can be riveting to see how soccer coaches move their pieces around the field in the strategic chess match of a big game.
Both Springville head coach Cami Bushnell and Maple Mountain head coach Craig LaMont proved willing to mix things up for Thursday’s titanic Region 8 showdown in Spanish Fork.
Yet after all the strategy and maneuvering, the final outcome in the thrilling 3-2 Red Devil victory over the Golden Eagles came down to a mere inch or two.
Yes, it was that type of game.
“As a team, we gave everything we had,” Bushnell said. “We wanted to win so badly and the girls left everything on the field. The girls were battling for every 50-50 ball. We played extremely well.”
LaMont had a similar viewpoint, even though Maple Mountain came out on the short side on the scoreboard.
“Both teams are really good,” he said. “Both teams have great offenses and a lot of power. We were grateful to be playing someone to challenge us. I liked what I saw. This game was fun, whether we won or lost. Springville’s defense was gritty and their strategy was excellent.”
Each team made a big move to attempt to gain an advantage.
To stymie the potent Red Devil attack and specifically Springville senior star Tara Warner, LaMont started the game with senior midfielder/forward Paola Garcia playing defense.
The strategy worked fairly well defensively as the visitors had few opportunities in the first half — but the Golden Eagles didn’t get a ton of looks either.
Both squads got a shot of momentum out of the gate as Maple Mountain sophomore Allie Fryer drove the ball hard to the Red Devil end line in the first minute of the game, then crossed it to where sophomore Anna Salisbury drilled it in for the early lead.
Springville answered a couple of minutes later when a rush on the Golden Eagle attacking third resulted in a foul in the Maple Mountain penalty box and Red Devil senior Breanna Eves knocked the ball in off the crossbar for the equalizer.
Warner finally found some freedom for a brilliant burst early in the second half.
She won a one-on-one opportunity off a pass from Eves, then less than a minute later used hesitation to get the step she needed for a perfect shot that gave Springville the 3-1 lead.
“Once you get the ball and an opening, you have to stay composed,” Warner said. “You have to focus on where you want to place your shot.”
The high-powered Golden Eagle offense wasn’t about to capitulate and came roaring back the other direction, putting immense pressure on the Red Devil net.
In the 50th minute, Maple Mountain senior Megen Yeates cut Springville’s lead in half with a rifle shot.
For the next two minutes, the Golden Eagles peppered the Red Devil goal area with shots and crosses, earning corner kicks and never letting Springville get much respite.
It was during that wild sequence that Maple Mountain appeared to have tied the game — only to have the ball hit the post an inch too far out and ricochet back into the field of play instead of into the net.
“Those minutes were so scary,” Warner said. “It was nerve-wracking to have them have the ball that close. I was shaking so much. You just have to have trust in your teammates that they can get it out.”
To counter the dynamic runs of Fryer that created so many opportunities for the Golden Eagles, Bushnell moved Warner from her normal position at forward back to play defense.
“That was the first time we’ve done that this year,” Bushnell said. “But she plays that position in club soccer and likely will play it in college. I think she is one of the best players — if not the best — in the state. She is a dynamic player who can play any position.”
Tara Warner’s older sister, Rachelle Warner, was one of the top high school soccer defenders ever during her time at Timpanogos.
When Tara Warner was asked how Rachelle would grade her defensive showing, she said, “hopefully she would be proud.”
It proved to be enough to help keep the potent Maple Mountain scorers from getting any more goals — although Springville senior keeper Macy Clements also made a bunch of impressive saves to secure the win.
When the final whistle blew, the Red Devils were finally able to celebrate.
“It felt so good to have the time run out,” Tara Warner said. “We knew it would be a close game and we would have to work as a team. Luckily we pulled it out at the end.”
With the win, Springville now holds a huge lead atop the Region 8 standings.
“Last year we didn’t play as well against Maple Mountain as we thought we could,” Bushnell said. “We wanted to prove that we can play with and beat a good team like they are. To sweep them this year was huge for our program because of their skill and their coaching.”
The Red Devils (8-2-0, 8-0-0) next host Wasatch on Sept. 17, while Maple Mountain (6-3-1, 5-2-1) hosts Spanish Fork on the same day.
Both games are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.