Murray High School girls soccer enters season confident with young, returning talent
Murray’s Alison Berry (right) applies defensive pressure to her opponent. (Steve Christensen)
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The Utah Jazz — and the Murray High School girls soccer team — have something in common.
No, the Spartans’ best player hasn’t moved to Boston. But each of the teams has accomplished something unusual in the world of sports. Both teams have improved their records — from one season to the next — for four straight years.
With the recent departure of Gordon Hayward, many doubt the Jazz will be able to keep their streak alive this winter. But Spartan head coach Brady Smith has every reason to believe his girls can do it.
“When I started as head coach here (2013) we were 7-9,” Smith said. “The next season we improved to 7-7-2. In 2015, we had our first winning record, at 11-5-1. And last season the girls were 13-4.”
As the Murray soccer girls prepare for their August 9 season opener with Westlake High School in a tournament at Corner Canyon High, part of the reason for optimism is that two-thirds of last year’s starting lineup has returned.
“We have had a lot of young talent in recent years. This season, seven of our 11 starters are back…and only three of them are seniors,” Smith added.
One of those returners is all-state forward Abbi Graham. Just a junior in school, this will be her third year starting for the team.
“We should be strong if everyone works hard,” Graham said. “But we also have a couple of very tough teams moving into our region, so it will be a challenge.”
Indeed, Murray’s new region, created by the Utah High School Activities Association, has strong girls soccer programs from East and Highland moving in. Meanwhile, the Spartans’ nemesis, the two-time defending region champion Skyline, is also sticking around.
“This may be the toughest girls soccer region in the state,” Smith said. “We particularly want revenge against East, because they knocked us out of last year’s state tournament in the first round.”
That, in fact, was the second year in a row the Murray girls lost their first state tournament game, and then watched the team that beat them advance to the state championship game. Graham was a starter on both those teams.
“We’ve yet to win a game at state and that’s definitely one of our top goals this year,” she said. “I also have a personal goal of making the all-state first team (last season she was second team in one Salt Lake newspaper, honorable mention in the other). But that’s not as important as the team goal.”
Graham believes Coach Smith is the right person to get them there.
“He’s a super nice guy who knows a lot about soccer,” she added. “He makes a real effort to have a connection with each of us, which really isn’t all that common.”
Smith played soccer at Salt Lake’s Westminster College after graduating from Mountain Crest High School in the Cache Valley in 2000. He is a special education teacher at Murray.
Meantime, assistant girls soccer coach Matt Ostler also works at Murray High and graduated from the school in 2006.
“We operate a children’s day care lab at the school,” Ostler said. “It’s primarily for kids whose parents work for the Murray School District, though we sometimes have a few paying parents from the general public.”
While he was a student at Murray, Ostler attended the class where students learn how to provide day care and operate the center.
“I liked it so much I decided to take a job here,” he said.
Ostler is the head JV coach in the Murray girls soccer program.
Smith says about 45 girls will be selected for the Murray varsity, JV and sophomore/freshman teams. Following their two games at the Corner Canyon tournament (August 9 and 10) the girls will play their home opener August 22 vs. Cottonwood.
One week later, the region opener is at East, against the team that ousted them from last year’s state tournament.
“Hopefully, that will be a redemption game for us,” Smith said. “Our girls have figured out they can play at a higher level. Now they’re anxious to go out and prove it.”