Their Time Is Now: Murray Girls Soccer Set Sights On State Championship TitleOct 04, 2016 02:50PM ● By Sarah Almond
All 45 of the Murray Spartan’s girls soccer players pose for a photo at the beginning of the season. “In my experience, Murray soccer has always been a close-knit family,” team captain Katie Valdez said. “We are all very supportive of each other and work really well together.” (Steve Christensen/Murray resident)
By Sarah Almond | [email protected]
Just weeks remain in the 4A girls soccer season and yet the Murray Spartans couldn’t be more ready to compete. Unlike many high school teams that tend to plateau towards the end of the season, Spartans’ head coach Brady Smith says the Murray girls are continuing to improve and fight for every win.
“This season has gone really well for us so far,” Smith said. “Right now we’re 9-2 overall and are currently in second place in our region. We are also the top scoring team in 4A in the state - so there’s a lot of positive stuff happening this year.”
Thanks to the addition of the new sophomore and freshman teams, the Spartans were able to take 45 girls at tryouts in early August, making this year’s group the biggest Murray has ever had.
“We’re still a pretty young team, too, which is exciting for the future,” Smith said.
The Spartans graduated five talented players last year, including former midfielder and forward Lizzy Braby, who now plays for BYU.
“She [Braby] was a pretty prolific player to lose, but we’ve kind of filled that void and have strengthened our ability to step up into new roles,” Smith said.
This year Murray has three of Utah’s top 15 scorers. Junior Macy Martinez is the Spartans’ leading scorer with 15 goals and three assists in just the first half of the season. Senior captain Katie Valdez, another leading scorer, has had 12 goals and eight assists in the first 11 games and sophomore Abi Graham has contributed with 14 goals and five assists.
Smith says that having younger girls rise to the challenge of cultivating a well-rounded team is something that’s ingrained in Spartan culture.
“It’s a competitive environment and it’s an environment where everyone has an opportunity to take on those roles,” Smith said. “I think it’s naturally become a positive part of our culture.”
Smith also says he’s noticed leadership on the team improve as part of the group’s culture during his four years as head coach for the Spartans.
“We’ve now had several players who have played varsity for multiple years, so I think our strong leadership comes from those strong seniors and also from a couple strong juniors and sophomores,” Smith said. “It’s really a team effort as far as leadership goes.”
Along with superior leadership and undeniably talented players, the 2016 season has seen the Spartans improve in an area they’ve notoriously struggled with: defense.
“Our new high pressure defensive strategy has proven to be very effective when we execute it correctly,” senior captain Katie Valdez said. “But it can be hard to keep the pressure high because everyone has to do their part in order for the strategy to work. So far though, everyone seems to be adapting to it quite well.”
Junior forward Macy Martinez agrees that the new method of defensive play has been key to the Spartans early success this season.
“Our defense is very strong right now,” Martinez said. “We have very few goals against us.”
At the time this article was written, Murray’s defense had exactly 10 goals scored against them—a mere fraction of the 62 goals the Spartan’s offense scored on their competitors.
“We’ve kind of changed our defensive philosophy this year,” Smith said. “We’ve gone from a team that really just scored a lot of goals to a team that can now stop people too. It’s been something that’s been a big focus of ours this year.”
With their defense improving daily and an offensive strategy that’s virtually unstoppable, the Spartans are labeling 2016 as the year they take the state championship title home to Murray High School.
“I feel like the time is now,” Smith said. “We’ve kind of put the pieces in place and the girls are on board. They’ve definitely improved from where they were last year and are excited about the opportunity to claim that title.”
With less than half the season left to play, the Spartans know that in order to achieve their goal of becoming state champions they’ll need to win the rest of the games this season and continue to perfect the new defensive philosophy.
“I know we have what it takes,” Martinez said. “I’ve never been more ready to take the championship title. The time is now.”
The first round of the 4A State Championships begins on October 11. For more information on game times and locations visit http://bradydsmith.wixsite.com/mhsgirlssoccer.