Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Girls basketball: Sky View upends Skyline

On Nov. 27, I attended the Skyline-Sky View girls basketball game. I'm doing yearbooks for both teams, so this seemed like an obvious game to cover. I wrote separate articles for each yearbook. Here is the article that will appear in the Sky View girls basketball yearbook.

Bobcats survive early-season test
Evans, Goldman, Jensen
provide offensive spark
in tough win at Skyline

By Bruce Smith

                 The Sky View Bobcats have made it to the state tournament the last 10 years. They did it by challenging themselves with difficult non-region games.
                Tuesday night, the Bobcats came to Skyline. After a rugged first half, the Bobcats rode the play of Danee Evans, Tara Goldman and Lindsey Jensen and edged the Eagles 65-54 in a game between perennial 4A powers.
                “We finally got our offense going,” said Sky View coach Kimber Hall. “We got some easy shots off steals and made our free throws.”
                That may have been true, but it wasn’t that easy. This game was much closer than the 11-point margin.
                Skyline, playing its first game of the season under new coach Lynette Schroeder, led much of the game and even bolted to a nine-point margin early in the second half. The Eagles showed a new attitude and a deep (11 player) lineup that Schroeder said would be part of the team’s personality all season.
                “The kids will have to prove themselves in practice every day,” Schroeder said. “We’re a young team and a work in progress.”
                Skyline showed a lot of potential. In the end, though, Sky View’s defense forced too many (20) turnovers. Many were by Evans, who Hall jokingly referred as “one of the slowest players on the team.”
                “I don’t know how she does it, but she’s always in the action,” Hall said. “Our opponents always have to know where she is.”
                There were basically three turning points:

                * - The first came late in the first half. Skyline held a 23-18 lead and had the ball, but attempted a three-point shot with 20 seconds left instead of holding on to the ball until the end. Kendra Falslev then came downcourt and nailed a trey for the Bobcats to make it a two-point margin (23-21) at half.
                * - The second was Sky View’s free-throw shooting. The Bobcats missed their first six from the line and were 4-14 at halftime. They made 16-24 after that. Jensen did the most damage. She made 13-16 shots herself and spent much of the fourth quarter adding to Sky View’s lead.
                * - Finally, there was the point where Sky View made its move. The Bobcats put themselves in good position with a nice third-quarter rally. The score was 36-36 entering the final period.
                Goldman then created a lot of momentum with a free throw and a pair of baskets to bump the margin to 41-36.  The Bobcats never lost it.

                 “Tara did a great job and it was good that we already had one game under our belts,” said Hall. “We knew it was their first game. We tried to pressure them and rattle them a little bit.”
                It sometimes worked, but Mia Mortensen gave Skyline some life after being fouled on a perimeter shot and making all three free throws. Still, the Bobcats survived and Goldman’s trey with just over a minute left made the score 59-51 and both teams could sense the eventual outcome.
                “We ran our offense really well. We moved the ball and cut into open spots,” recalled Schroeder. “We had some costly turnovers and didn’t hustle back on defense. Sky View did a good job maintaining the lead.
                “It’s good to measure ourselves against them,” she added. “They’re always a good team and we need games like this to challenge ourselves.”
                Evans led Sky View with 18 points. Jensen followed with 17 and Goldman 16. Sydnee Taylor topped Skyline with 12, Hillary Weixler added nine and Mortensen and Sara Weixler eight.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Girls basketball: Mavs hold off BK

Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I traveled to Boise and got a chance to cover the Mountain View girls basketball team's home game against Bishop Kelly. It wasn't a pretty game, but MV may be on its way toward a special season. Here is the article that I wrote for the Maverick girls 2012-13 post-season yearbook.

Mavs battle past BK

Fouls, turnovers keep both teams from progressing,
but Mountain View pulls out a tough non-league win

By Bruce Smith
            A week between games, being away from school or perhaps just playing on Thanksgiving weekend took its toll on the Mountain View girls basketball team Saturday night.
            It may have also have affected their opponent.
            Whatever the reason, the Mavericks and Bishop Kelly left the gym unfulfilled after Mountain View’s 47-34 non-league victory.
            “There were too many fouls. No one could get into a rhythm,” said Mountain View coach Connie Skogrand. “It looked like we hadn’t played basketball or even touched a ball in a week.”
            Despite school being out all week, the Mavs did practice. But 47 fouls (an average of almost one per minute of play) slowed the game. In the end, Josie Lawrence scored nine points and Destiny Slocum and Kayley Hastings had seven apiece as Mountain View improved to 4-1 overall.
            “We had an awesome Week 1, but took a step back,” Skogrand said. “I like the fact that we were challenged, though, and the girls understood what we wanted to do.”
            The Mavs shot just 29.8 percent and were only 19-of-35 from the free-throw line. If it hadn’t been for Aubrey Griffeth’s (6-8) performance there, it would have been far worse.
            Mountain View never trailed, though, and always seemed to respond when necessary.
            The Mavs built a 35-21 lead early in the fourth quarter, but the contest was never pretty. It was filled with turnovers, and the only reason the game wasn’t closer was due to Bishop Kelly’s shooting.
            The Knights made 9-of-59 shots (15.9 percent). In the second and third quarters, they were a combined 1-18. Gabi Harrington (nine points) and Racquelle Mouw (eight) helped Bishop Kelly get within nine points in the third quarter, but never any closer.
            “We stops and they had stops, but we couldn’t find the basketball and get the loose balls,” said BK coach Derek McCormick. “That was the quickest team we’ve played all year so far.”
             That’s saying something since the Knights’ schedule has included Centennial, Eagle, Boise Nampa and Skyview. Bishop Kelly showed impressive depth, substituting often and 10 players ended up having substantial playing time.
            The Mavs, however, didn’t wilt, even after Harrington hit a couple of baskets in the fourth quarter and Rebecca Hassell nailed a three-pointer. After each basket, BK called time out to set up full-court pressure. The ploy didn’t work well, however, as Slocum and Kayla Moore were usually able to dribble through.

Boise football: 2012 season recap

In 2012, Boise (Idaho) High School won three games. That may not seem like a lot, but the team was winless the year before. This season, the Braves had a dynamic offense that meant they were never out of a game. The school felt it was on the comeback trail and hopes for more next year. Here is the article recapping the season that appeared in the 2012 Boise football yearbook.

Above and beyond
Season-opening win rejuvenates Braves and sends them
to a remarkable season that ends with dramatic comeback
By Bruce Smith

             The 2012 football season couldn’t have ended a better way.
            The Boise Braves were at Meridian, a team they hadn’t defeated in almost 20 years. But Tanner Gustavsen, a rare four-year veteran at quarterback, scored on an 8-yard run with 1.9 seconds left. Shortly afterward, Gustavsen scored the game-winning two-point conversion.
            “We were down 23 points with eight minutes to go, but we never quit,” said coach Bob Clark. “On defense, we got aggravated. On offense, every possession was pressure packed. The resiliency of our guys went above and beyond.”
            The Braves finished with a 3-6 record and did not make the postseason. However, it was a season full of great memories.
            It started when Boise shocked the entire city with a 38-24 victory over cross-town rival Borah in the season opener, which broke in the new inner-city stadium – Dona Larsen Park.
            The next week, Boise defeated Vallivue on its home field and was quickly 2-0. The Braves had to deal with injuries and a lack of depth and didn’t win another game until beating Meridian. However, after a 0-9 record the previous year, Boise football was the talk of the town.
            “It felt really good,” said Clark. “Last year, we played a lot of young kids and that experience helped us out a lot. We were pleased at how they played and performed. The kids battled every game, more so than they ever have.”
            The excitement leading up to the opening of the new stadium put a lot of pressure on the players, but Boise quickly built a 24-3 lead on Borah, a team it also hadn’t beaten for a while, and the Braves were never threatened.
            “We had a good feeling going into the game,” said Clark. “There were a lot of high stakes, opening the new stadium and playing our oldest rival. The family that donated the money for the stadium was also a Boise High family. There was a whole newness of it and the kids really responded to the pressure big time and we came out firing.”
            The ironic part was the day started badly. The Braves were scheduled to take the bus to the field, even though it was only a little more than a mile away. The bus, however, failed to show and a new tradition was created.
            “We talked about walking to BSU for years,” Clark said. “The kids are full of energy and, I thought to myself, ‘it’s a beautiful walk down Washington Street.’ As coaches, we decided to do it. We just started walking and it turned into a neat tradition. People (in cars) were honking their horns at us.
            “It was kind of cool. It’s a real quiet street, but it was such a good experience, we made it a tradition.”
            The win over Borah had the attention of the town – and the league – and it proved to be really interesting since Borah was the surprise team of the league and ended up earning the district’s No. 1 seed in the 5A playoffs.
            Boise then ended another long drought with the win over Vallivue – taking advantage of interception returns for touchdowns by Cameron Mayne and Noah Willison. Injuries then took their toll and much of the rest of the season was finding ways to deal with it.
            Most of the injuries involved defensive players. Meanwhile, the offense was setting records.
            Led by Gustavsen, who passed for 2,340 yards and ran for 676 more, many of Boise’s games were track meets. The Braves also had an impressive running attack with Chase Choate, Brett Walton, Josh Maxfield and, of course, Gustavsen.
            “Our biggest problem was that many times we scored too quickly and we didn’t give our defense enough rest,” Clark said. “We dominated a lot of teams.”
            Gustavsen was named the SIC’s offensive player of the year. He was helped by remarkable seasons by Skyler Rowe, Deion Hardy, Avery Miller and Mayne.
            “Tanner had a phenomenal season,” Clark said. “I can’t even explain how important he was to us.”
            The Braves were winless last year and 1-8 the year before. This year’s three-win team could have been better but injuries to guys like Juda Drennan, J.D. Durham, Miller had everyone wondering what might have been.
            “We had good crowds because we were so much fun to watch,” Clark said. “We had a great QB and receivers and we could score at any point. We led the league in yards. The kids (students) liked to watch that because it was fun. And we were playing pretty good.”


Boise football: Zach Noeker profile

In mid-November, I interviewed Boise (Idaho) lineman Zach  Noeker and we talked about his career, and this year's Boise football season. As a lineman, he saw things differently than most. He was a class act and had a lot of good things to say. Here is the article that appeared in this year's Boise football yearbook.

Zach Noeker:
He played a part in Boise’s talented line
that led to team’s offensive highlights

By Bruce Smith

            One of the key reasons for Boise’s turnaround in the 2012 football season was its offensive line.
            Zach Noeker was a member and a team captain. Although listed on the roster at 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, the Braves often dominated their opponents. It led to one of the most impressive season-long performances in school history.
            “It was a good year,” said Noeker. “We didn’t win a lot, but we had fun and we won some key games.”
            It started well right from the beginning. Playing rival Borah on Aug. 24, before most other schools started, and in a new stadium, the Braves rolled to a 38-24 win. Noeker said the victory shocked almost everyone.
            “Beating Borah was the highlight. No hesitation there,” said Noeker. “It was our main focus all summer.”
            And it led to a great postgame celebration. The players ran to their fans in the stands and coach Bob Clark was doused with water on the warm evening. Noeker said he was exhausted, but not too tired to join.
            “I remember just walking off the field,” he said. “We had been jumping up and down and yelling. We were freaking out with how well we did.”
            The team had walked from school to Dona Larsen Park that night, but there was a bus available for the return trip. Noeker, who played offensive right guard and was the long snapper on special teams, said the Borah win was something special and the festivities continued.
            “We had players calling each other out. We would all cheer. It was awesome. At one point, we all started singing, too,” he said. “It was my best game. We came out with an intensity that we hadn’t seen in a while. We were very focused that week in practice and were ready to go.”
            Noeker grew up playing football every year – in Optimist, at Hillside Junior High and then at Boise. He also got interested in lacrosse, where Boise played its home games at East Junior High. Noeker said he enjoyed the contact, especially since lacrosse players were usually smaller.
            Prior to this season, he said his sports highlight was when Boise beat Timberline his sophomore year. Shortly afterward, he also learned how to be a long snapper.
            “It’s a hard position to learn,” he said. “I’m good friends with (kicker) Travis (Browndyke) and he pulled me aside after practice one day and asked me to long snap. Over the course of my junior season, I was the long snapper.”
                Noeker’s senior season was dominated by great memories, and they didn’t stop after the Borah game.
            The following week, for instance, the Braves won again and were quickly 2-0. Noeker said the team’s early success generated more camaraderie on the team, but it was always there on the offensive line crew of Noeker, Deion Hardy, Larry Evans, Josh Scholer, Nick Funke and Will Winkle.
            As linemen, that group got a special look at Boise’s season. Noeker said that, besides the Borah win, the other great highlight was how the Braves beat Meridian in the season finale. His favorite play? That’s easy. Tanner Gustavsen’s touchdown run at the end.
            “We called it ‘T.G. Airlines,’” he said, laughing because Gustavsen leaped to the end score to score.
            “When he got to the 2-yard line, he jumped over the defender and scored. It was the coolest thing ever. When we went for the two-point conversion, they couldn’t do anything about it. That was a great game for all of us.”
            It also helped erase the difficult times the Braves had at midseason. Noeker was out for one game after dislocating his kneecap against Mountain View. He felt Rocky Mountain and Mountain View had the best linemen but, in most cases, “were able to hold our own.”
            Noeker planned to compete in lacrosse again in the spring and, after graduation, had plans to study engineering at Oregon Tech in Klamath Falls. As for his football future?
            “I’m pretty small for a lineman. Not sure that would work out.”

Boise football: Brett Walton profile

In mid-November, I got started on the Boise (Idaho) 2012 football yearbook and interviewed Brett Walton, who played linebacker and running back. This is a tough kid who epitomized how hard Boise players had to work to make this a breakout season. Here is the article I wrote for the team's football yearbook.

Brett Walton:
His aggressiveness and ability created
made him a great team leader

By  Bruce Smith

             The 2012 football season should go down in history as one of the most important for Boise High School football.
            The Braves put their “stamp” on their new football facility, defeated three teams it hadn’t beaten in years and ended with one of the most exciting wins ever – in Idaho and perhaps around the country.
            There wasn’t a championship, but that didn’t matter. In Brett Walton’s eyes, it all felt good.
            “We had our ups and downs and it was hard to maintain a winning season when a lot of things went wrong,” he said. “But three wins is better than not winning at all.
            “And that win at Meridian … that was probably the highlight of the year. We had to come back from a lot of adversity. They were up 23 in the fourth quarter. Everyone wanted to keep on fighting. That’s what we do … constantly fight.”
            It didn’t end until quarterback Tanner Gustavsen rolled to the right on an 8-yard scoring run with 1.9 seconds left. He got behind Walton and Jacob Kodanko and put the ball over the goal line for the 62-61 win.
                “Tanner reached over three guys and does a complete helicopter to get to the end zone,” Walton recalled. “He goes up in the air and sacrificed himself for the team and the sport he loves. Meridian didn’t want to compete after that. Our fans came on the field. It was pretty nice.
            “After that, Meridian didn’t want to play and he went in untouched on the two-point conversion.”
            The much-maligned Braves defense, which had given up 46 points in the first half alone, stopped Meridian on three consecutive possessions, which allowed Boise to rally and set up the final moments.
            Those series of events helped Walton – and most Boise players – forget most of the disappointments during the season. For the seniors, Boise’s 3-6 record this year was their best. Along the way, they also defeated Borah, Vallivue and Meridian for the first time in years.
            “Football is all in your head,” Walton said. “What I learned about playing at Boise High is you don’t have to be a big person, but you have to be agile and smart. They’re not going to run through you if you take their legs out.”
            Walton certainly fit that mold. He was listed as 6-foot and 185 pounds on the roster, and doubled as an outside linebacker and running back. After the season, he began losing weight in order to make the wrestling team, where he had competed at 158 pounds the year before.
            Coach Bob Clark said Walton was one of the team’s most-aggressive players and – surprisingly – he stayed healthy during his career.
            “He constantly gave 100 percent,” said Clark, who also had Walton as a teaching assistant. “That’s what I love him for.”
            Walton had to mature as a football player to become a team captain and eventually a second team all-SIC selection. He was always a talented linebacker, but Clark also wanted him on offense.
            Walton said he had “slippery fingers” at first, but then combined with Gustavsen, Chase Choate and Josh Maxfield to give the Braves a running attack that forced defenses not to concentrate on the pass.
            “Tanner had a great year. He threw only four interceptions and that’s why he deserved the conference player of the year. We were able to go right up the gut with the football and he could throw it to guys like Deion (Hardy) or hit Skyler Rowe deep. Skyler would catch everything that touched his hands.”
            The Braves were third in the SIC in scoring, but first in most yards. Against Meridian, Boise rolled up 629 yards, which could be a school record.
            “Our offense scored fast a lot,” he said. “Our defense got tired because we were going on the field every two minutes because our offense was scoring. If they had slower drives that would give us more rest.”
            Walton, however, eventually figured all that playing just would just get him in shape for wrestling, where he hoped to improve on his third-place finish at state the previous year.

Boise football: Deion Hardy profile

In mid-November, I interviewed Boise (Idaho) tight end Deion Hardy. This guy is a remarkable athlete. Suprisingly, he hasn't attracted too many college scholarship offers. Someone will likely find him and will be congratulated later. Here is the article I wrote about Deion that appeared in the Boise 2012 football yearbook.

Deion Hardy:

The team’s best athlete, he was proud
to be part of its exciting turnaround

By Bruce Smith

             Deion Hardy was a three-sport athlete at Boise High School.
            At 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, few could match what he could do in competition. He played football, basketball and track and field, but there was no disputing his favorite.
            “Definitely football,” he said. “I’m a football guy all around.”
            Hardy played both ways. On offense, he was the team’s second-leading receiver, although he probably ranked first in acrobatics. On defense, he was on the end or in the backfield. Not many quarterbacks wanted to throw his way.
            Hardy grew up in Nampa, but moved his freshman year, where he had to decide between attending Mountain View or Boise. Of the four kids in his family, he was the only one to choose to be a Brave. Mountain View tended to have more success, but Hardy was unconcerned. He saw how much he and his teammates accomplished.
            “This season went fairly well compared to the way last year went,” he said. “The games were a lot closer. It was a big turnaround.
            “My season was 100 times better than my junior year.  Last year, I was dropping balls and I was injured and out for several games. This year, I had more touchdowns and got to play some defense. It was a blast.”
            Hardy said the team’s best game was the season finale against Meridian, but he broke his collarbone with about six minutes remaining and had to watch the most exciting part from the bench.
            His favorite game was Boise’s contest against Capital at Dona Larsen Park. The Braves, who hadn’t won a homecoming contest in years, trailed 35-0 at one point and yet almost won. In the final minutes, Hardy caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Tanner Gustavsen, making the score 42-41.
            “It was fourth quarter, two minutes left and 4th-down-and-something,” Hardy recalled. “Tanner rolled out and threw it. It was a big turnaround for me. Catching that ball in the clutch on a play that was so critical.”
               Hardy remembered the intensity. In fact, that was one of the most noticeable differences during this football season.
            He said it started before the season opener Aug. 24, which also marked the opening of the stadium at Dona Larsen Park, which was only a mile from Boise High. The Braves were considered underdogs, but Hardy caught a 13-yard pass from Gustavsen (the first touchdown scored on the new field) and the Braves won 38-24.
            “Everyone just got ready to play that game and we felt that it was our field,” Hardy recalled. “We were fired up and it felt more like a rivalry. That win was for the field.”
            The Braves played their first two games at the new stadium and the victories over Borah and Vallivue gave them momentum. They also started a new tradition of walking to the stadium.
            “I liked walking better than taking the bus. You got to clear your head and get into your own zone,” he said. “It was a tradition that should keep on going. People (in cars) were honking their horns. I didn’t recognize anybody. I was just trying to get into my zone.”
            Hardy made second team all-SIC as a tight end and, as soon as football ended, set his eyes on basketball. The collarbone injury forced him to miss tryouts, but he hoped to be on the court shortly afterward.
            Hardy said those last few minutes on the sidelines during the Meridian game gave him a chance to reflect.
            He said Rocky Mountain was Boise’s most difficult opponent, and the Meridian game the most memorable. Watching Gustavsen glide through the air to score the touchdown in the final seconds was exciting, and he had to be careful as the Braves and their fans swarmed the stadium after the win.
           “It did feel like we won the championship,” he said. “Maybe it wasn’t as great, but it was still pretty awesome.”

Boise football: Tanner Gustavsen profile

In early November, I interviewed Boise (Idaho) QB Tanner Gustavsen, who had a phenomenal career. As a senior, he ended up being named the league's offensive player of the year, even though the team finished 3-6. Boise was never boring, that's for sure. Here is the article about him that appeared in the Boise football yearbook.

Tanner Gustavsen:

Boise’s three-year starting quarterback
ended his career in magnificent style

By Bruce Smith

            To list all that Tanner Gustavsen accomplished in high school would take too much space in this Boise High School football yearbook.
            In order to make it fit, it’s best to note what he meant to the Braves’ football team.
            “I can’t even explain how important he was to us,” said coach Bob Clark.
            “He had a better season this year because he had a better line,” said tight end Deion Hardy. “We were making some blocks and he made things happen. He has always had the ability, he just didn’t always have the resources.”
            Gustavsen won the SIC’s offensive player of the year (rare for a 3-6 team) and should have won another award for “best highlight reel.” Coach Clark said he never gave up and, despite that, also avoided injuries.
            “He deserves the conference player of the year,” said running back/linebacker Brett Walton. “That play he made against Meridian was just awesome.”
            Gustavsen was Boise’s 6-foot, 185-pound senior quarterback. He was a three-year starter. His amazing football career began when he was voted a team captain as a sophomore. He threw for over 5,000 yards, including 2,340 yards a senior, when Boise had its best season in years.
            “It went really well,” Gustavsen said. “Last year, we had our struggles but we were able to work throughout the summer with the players we had and capitalize on that. You really saw it in the way we moved the ball.
            “I worked on minimizing turnovers,” he added. “It might be my experience. I watched a lot of film.”
            Gustavsen threw just four interceptions, and two came at desperate times late in games. Gustavsen said his best memory was Boise’s season opener against Borah at Dona Larsen Park, when he passed for 212 yards and three touchdowns in the 38-24 win.
            “A lot of our students had their doubts about us, but that game was pretty crazy,” he said. “When the clock ran down, and I saw everyone run on to the field, that was great. To have our first game (of the season) be a victory, especially with all the hype in the media, was pretty cool.”
            Of course, most of his teammates recall the final game. When Boise trailed Meridian by 23 points with eight minutes left and rallied for a 62-61 victory. Gustavsen said he wasn’t paying attention to the score. He just knew Boise had to score as quickly as possible.
            Boise won on a fourth-down gamble, when Gustavsen ran eight yards for a touchdown, leaping over three Meridian players to somehow get into the end zone. He then scored the game-winning two-point conversion.
            “That was probably the greatest game I’ve ever played. I was happy to go out on a good note,” he said.
            “We just focused on going out and doing our jobs. Everything was working for us and we kept going down field on them. It was a great feeling.
            “That last play was do-or-die. I had that in mind. To not score would have been devastating. I turned the corner and had a couple of (Boise) guys in front of me and went for it. Going airborne was one thing I always wanted to do in high school.”
            With the accomplishments, Gustavsen praised his teammates, several whom he played football with since his family moved to Boise when he was 10 years old.
            He raved about Walton’s block that allowed him to reach the end zone at Meridian. He said his receivers – Hardy, Cameron Mayne, Skyler Rowe and Avery Miller – made great catches and the offensive line allowed him and Boise’s backfield to pose a running threat.
            “We had all the tools for a great offense,” he said. “We’d just take the ball down the field and dare anyone to stop us.”
            Opposing coaches called Gustavsen the driving force, and awarded him the league’s top offensive player award. Gustavsen hoped it would help him earn a college football scholarship.
            “It was really cool. It’s a good feeling to have that kind of recognition,” he said. “I would like to play college ball somewhere. Just see what school gives me a shot. It’s quite the frustrating process.”

Skyline soccer: 2012 season recap

The Skyline (Utah) girls soccer team finished the 2012 season as the Region 7 champions and advanced to the 4A semifinals before losing to Bountiful in a great match. Here is the article recapping the season that appeared in the team's post-season yearbook.

Charging through 4A
Eagles fall short of elusive state championship,
but continue to build momentum, tradition and memories
By Bruce Smith

            The Skyline girls soccer team came into the 2012 season looking for a championship. They earned one, but missed the other.
            And, even though the girls walked off the field with tears in their eyes on that cold, rainy night at Juan Diego, they didn’t feel like losers.
            “Sure, it stings,” said senior forward Ashley Aberton. “You always go in wanting the state championship, and I really felt like we had the team to do it this year, but we still accom-plished so much.”
            The Eagles finished with a 15-2-2 overall record and were 9-0-1 in Region 7, winning the school’s fourth straight region title. Skyline made it to the state championship game last year, but coach Yamil Castillo said the overall depth of good teams in 4A made it even more difficult this season.
            Skyline made it to the 4A state tournament and, after beating East and Timpanogos, was defeated 1-0 by Bountiful in the semifinals. The Braves went on to lose to Bonneville in the title contest.
            “We had talent and experience all over the field, so I know our goals were set pretty high,” Castillo said. “We (the coaches) knew what we were capable. It was a disappointment, but now that I’ve had time to reflect on it, I think of all that we’ve accomplished.”
            “The senior class – we’ve won region every year,” said Aberton. “We went from not winning a playoff game to making it to the semis and finals and really just taking Skyline and making a family place for everyone. We went away with a lot more.”
            Aberton and sophomore Jaslyn Masina made headlines early in the season with their speed and scoring abilities. Afterward, Aberton, Lauren Harmon and goalkeeper Alli Spencer each made the all-state team, and Meghan Davies, who was injured in the spring and missed the entire soccer season, joined them in earning a college scholarship. Davies was also part of the team, serving as team manager and offering herself as an inspiration to the other players.
            “It’s just a soccer team, but these girls made this program a contender,” Castillo said. “We’ve really elevated the program and you can see it by the girls who are coming in.”
            The Eagles prepared themselves by playing a difficult preseason schedule that included matches against 5A power Davis, as well as a two-day road trip to the Cache Valley to play 4A contenders Sky View and Mountain Crest. Games against Park City, Syracuse and Highland followed.
            “I knew we were going to be good when we played Olympus here in the first part of the season,” Castillo said. “In that week, we played Hillcrest and Olympus, which were the second and third-place teams last year, and we scored 12 goals and had one goal against.
            “At that point, we were in the driver’s seat.”
            Only a 1-1 tie late in the season – after the Eagles had already clinched the region crown – kept them from a perfect league season. Skyline earned a No. 1 seed and, despite that, had to face a difficult stretch of games in order to return to Rio Tinto Stadium.
            “Beating Timpanogos was probably the highlight of the season,” said Castillo, noting that the Eagles lost to the Timberwolves in the state final last year.
            Aberton scored the only goal just five minutes into the game and Spencer turned away at least three point-blank shot attempts. The team was all smiles afterward, but Bountiful also had a chance for revenge five days later. After losing to the Eagles in 2011, the Braves were able to turn the tables.
                “We lost our first game and we lost in the semifinals. It’s hard to stay undefeated for that long,” Castillo said. “We were a target. People didn’t take us for granted. Everyone came and played their best game (against Skyline).”
            The Eagles lost 12 seniors to graduation, but the momentum built from this group should allow the team to continue its tradition. Only time will tell if it will be as special as this group.


Skyline soccer: Alli Spencer profile

In early November, I interviewed Skyline (Utah) soccer goalkeeper Alli Spencer. She managed to dominate games with her actions in the net and that helped the Eagles have such a good year. Here is the article that appeared in this year's Skyline girls soccer yearbook.

Alli Spencer:

Her goalkeeping intimidated opponents
and helped create Skyline’s personality

By Bruce Smith

             Alli Spencer was an all-state pick and few could argue her stature on the Skyline girls soccer team.
            In two seasons as the Eagles’ goalkeeper, she helped the team claim 18 shutouts. This season, she was on every opponent’s mind as they prepared how to play Skyline.
            “She’s an intimidating person in the box. She’s full of confidence,” said Skyline coach Yamil Castillo. “She intimidated the forwards on the other teams with physical play and aggressiveness.”
            Spencer was born in Calgary, Alberta, then moved to Houston before coming to Salt Lake City in 2006. She started playing in Texas, and was always the keeper. She never considered playing anywhere else.
            She joined the Skyline varsity as a freshmen and viewed herself as an understudy to Anna Cassell, who also pitched a few shutouts for the Eagles and went on to play in college.
            “Anna and I have pretty similar playing styles,” Spencer said. “She was a fantastic player and a great leader. I’m sure I picked up things from her that I don’t even notice. It’s nice that Skyline has this goalkeeping dynasty.”
            Skyline’s success also gave Spencer a lot of playing time and a chance to build her own reputation.
            “She could block a ball with her eyes closed,” said Castillo.”When she’s out on the field, she makes her presence known.”
            Castillo pointed to Skyline’s victory over Timpanogos in the 4A quarterfinals as one her best. But Spencer said that was one of her many great memories.
            “In region, it was always fun playing Olympus,” she said. “The teams we played in our playoff games were among the tougher teams. We loved to compete, so it was a great run. East also gave us a good first-round game. Bountiful, over the last two years … they’ve been one of my favorite opponents.”
            The Eagles, of course, fell to Bountiful in the semifinals this season. But in 2011, the two teams also played a memorable one in the quarterfinals.
            Bountiful led 1-0 until Ashley Abertson scored for Skyline in the final minute of regulation. The contest eventually went to penalty kicks. Spencer stopped one of Bountiful’s shots and then, when asked, nailed her chance at a PK to win the game.
            "I didn't think they (the coaches) would ask me to be in the shootout," Spencer said after that game. "We started working on shootouts the last week and I only kicked one yesterday and I did OK. When I heard a coach call my number, I just went out and did it. I didn't have time to be nervous."
            Spencer said she tried to be as offensive as possible while playing a defensive position.
            It’s hard to explain, but you get like a ‘Superman complex.’  You feel like they’re never going to score on you,” she said. “There have been several games where I’ve felt like that. I just believed that I’d put in the work in 12 years of soccer and it wasn’t going to let me down.
            On the sideline, I’m sure it looked nerve wracking, but I wasn’t worried.”
            Spencer said her best saves came on shots that were never taken.
            “That’s my philosophy,” she said. “I try to be vocal on the field and organize the players in front of me. If you have a cohesive group in the four backs, there’s no reason for the goalie to do any work.”
            She said she became great friends with Skyline players like Kaitlin Parkin, Katelynne Halliday, Kate Watts, Julie Jacobs, Lucy Hegemann, and Liza Zenger.
            “There were three Kate’s, so I would use their last names,” she said. “It got confusing, but it’s happened before so they were good at figuring out who I was talking to.”
            Spencer’s success on the field and in the classroom has proven valuable and she planned to go to New York’s Columbia University and play soccer.
            “I’m hoping to study engineering and pretty much hang out in New York,” she said. “I’ll follow Skyline and I can always come back here and crack the whip.”

Skyline soccer: Lauren Harmon profile

In early November, I interviewed Skyline (Utah) soccer player Lauren Harmon. I watched her play several times during the season. Being a guy, I certainly noticed she was very pretty. However, her athletic ability and size really allowed her to make a difference on the soccer field. She should do well at the college level. Here's the article I wrote that appeared in this year's Skyline girls soccer yearbook.

Lauren Harmon:

Led a talented class of athletes
that built Skyline soccer tradition

By Bruce Smith
            Lauren Harmon remembered one of the first practices she had with the Skyline girls soccer team her sophomore year.
            She looked around at her teammates, and especially her classmates and realized the talent they had.
            “You could tell we had a pretty good class,” she said. “When we were juniors, most of the starters were in our class.”
            In her four years, Skyline’s record has been 58-13-4 and the team has won four region titles. 2011 was the most successful as the Eagles reached the 4A title game before losing 1-0 to Timpanogos in the final.
            Coach Yamil Castillo said Harmon played a big part in it.
            “She was an incredible athlete,” he said. “The thing I admired the most was she wouldn’t worry about the highlights. She would just go out there and do the job. Her best game was Timpanogos. She was all over.”
            Harmon had similar feelings about the coaches.
            “Part of our success is our staff,” Harmon said. “They have helped us work together and be more team oriented. We don’t have that many standout players. Our senior class is so big. We’ve had a lot of experience playing with each other. We were familiar with each other so we had a head start. Then, with the new, younger players, it was easy for them to fit in.”
            And now, at least six players are moving on to play in college. Harmon, in fact, is headed to Utah State. But the list also includes Ashley Aberton (Gonzaga), Alli Spencer (Columbia), Kaitlin Parkin (Southern Utah), Katelynne Halliday (BYU-Hawaii) and Meghan Davies (UNLV). At press time, Emily Cassell and Elizabeth Armstrong had some options.
            “It’s nice to have it done with,” Harmon said. “It’s a lot of work to be recruited but it pays off.”
            College scouts – and coaches – know how to recognize talent, and they don’t find it by reading the newspaper headlines. If so, they might not have found Harmon.
            She started playing club soccer in the sixth grade and that has led her to matches in places like San Diego, Las Vegas, Denver, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Texas, Florida and more. She joined the Skyline team as a freshmen.
            Early in her Skyline career, she scored two goals in a victory over Union. Since then, however, scores have been scarce, mostly because per center midfield position keeps her away from the goal.
            Harmon finished her career with 12 goals, including five as a senior. She said scoring isn’t as important to her as controlling the game, where she used her skills, as well as her size (5-foot-9). Great memories have followed.
                That (2011 4A quarterfinal) game against Bountiful was my most memorable,” she recalled. “I remember it being a very, very physical game. I remember the intensity of being down and we got a red card, too, so we were down a player. We had a disadvantage. When we pulled through and won, that was amazing. Nobody likes to end a game with a PK (penalty kick), but when it goes down to PKs and you win, you like it.”
            Harmon said the Skyline senior class had high hopes coming into the season. They wanted to end their career on a high note and, after coming so close last season, felt like they had a chance.
            The season started slowly, however. The Eagles dropped their opener to Davis and, just over a week later, were held to a tie by Park City. Harmon said something needed to be done. She said the Park City match was the turning point.
                “We decided we were not going to have a bad year,” she said. “We needed to suck it up and start winning our games.”
            The Eagles didn’t lose again for two months. On the way, they made their best memories, including an unbeaten region season, their “Senior Day” game against Murray and two postseason victories.
            “My best game was our last game against Olympus. It was under the lights and it was their Senior (Night) game. I felt super ready. I scored two goals and almost three. I just felt I was ready for that game and controlled most of it. That was my favorite game because they are our rivals.”
            Along the way, Harmon said she followed Utah State’s soccer team, which recently turned around its program.
            For Harmon, the near future may be a familiar ride.

Skyline soccer: Ashley Aberton profile

In early November, I interviewed Ashley Aberton, who was really the star player of the Skyline (Utah) girls soccer team this year. She's a talented athlete and extremely fast. Here is the article that is scheduled to appear in this year's Skyline girls soccer yearbook.

Ashley Aberton:
Her speed made her a great athlete
and led to goals, wins and recognition
By Bruce Smith
            Ashley Aberton may go down in Skyline High School history as one of its best athletes. But in her mind, she’s a soccer player.
            Her career started long ago, before she was old enough to remember. Her fondest flashbacks included playing soccer with her older brother, Kyle, who is now playing football at Yale.
            “I was always super competitive with him,” she said. “Soccer was one of those sports we would play in the back yard and that’s what got me into it.”
            In the meantime, it made her a better player – and a better person. Three years ago, she teamed with her brother and her parents, Laura and Mark, to increase awareness for breast cancer and it raised about $10,000.
            Ashley didn’t get much attention there, nor did she while competing on Skyline’s track and basketball teams, where she was also one of the top players.
            Soccer, however, has been a different story.
            Even as a senior, she was only 5-foot-4, but used her amazing speed and field awareness to become one of the state’s best.
            “I’ve always been fast,” she said. “Because I’m so much smaller, I hear from everyone that I’m too small, so I have to be the most competitive. What I don’t get in height, I make up for in other aspects.”
            That fact was certainly noticed by Skyline coach Yamil Castillo, who has started her in every game since he came here.
            “She grew up to be a leader. She led by example. That was her biggest accomplishment,” Castillo said. “She’s one of the top players that I’ve
            Aberton said she enrolled at Skyline for its academics, but became a three-time all-state player and, as a senior, led the Eagles in scoring with 22 goals. Her high game was a three-goal effort at home against Olympus this year, but Castillo said he noticed something else about her efforts.
            “Her best game was the first time we played Hillcrest. She was dominant,” he said. “She forced other teams to play us differently. What I noticed is that every time we played a team a second time, they would play her more aggressively.”
            Aberton scored 54 goals in her four-year career. She was known for her amazing speed. She
had one goal as a freshman, but made a name for herself with a four-goal effort against Cyprus her sophomore year. Her senior season was her best, but she said it was her favorite for different reasons.
            “The season went really well,” she said. “We grew so much as a team and came together so much. We definitely won a lot of our games because we were so close and depended on one another. We stuck together and faced the adversity. We were always there to pick each other up.”
            Aberton teamed with sophomore Jaslyn Masina to give the Eagles a strong 1-2 scoring punch. She said Jaslyn “was like having a twin out there” and it forced opponents to pay attention to both of them. She said there were lots of great plays she’ll remember this season.
            “Definitely beating Timpanogos was a big game because we had lost to them last year,” she said. “Beating Olympus was always memorable.”
            The season-ending loss to Bountiful in the semifinals stung – even a few weeks later – but it also opened her eyes to what they had accomplished.
            In the four years she has played, Skyline’s record has been 58-14-4 (almost 80 percent). That success has opened the door to her future. Aberton earned a scholarship to play soccer at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., and she said she considers that to be her biggest sports accomplishment.
            “It’s something I’ve dreamt of since I was little,” she said. “It’s really the heart of the city. It’s a family environment. The team was so welcoming and supportive. I just fell in love with it.”
            Skyline will miss her once she leaves, but the soccer legacy she helped create will likely continue. And – don’t forget – Gonzaga and BYU are in the same conference.

About Me

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I am the author of Matchup, which provides yearbooks to high school sports teams, commemorating their seasons.