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Murray Journal

Another banner Murray HS girls soccer season closes in 5A quarterfinals

Nov 25, 2019 01:51PM ● By Carl Fauver

The 2019 Murray High School girls soccer team followed last year’s state championship game appearance by advancing to the Class 5A quarterfinals. (Steve Christensen)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected] 

When you advance to the state championship game – and barely lose, 2-1 – there’s not much room to move up. The only step higher, obviously, is to win that title game.

But there’s lots of room to tumble down. And that’s the challenge coach Brady Smith’s Murray High School girls soccer team faced this fall, after losing seven players – six of them starters – to graduation.  

Half of those starters from a year ago moved on to play college soccer this fall: Abbi Graham at Utah Valley University, as well as Hannah Lee and Megan Mendenhall at Salt Lake Community College. All three were Deseret News Class 5A first team all-state players.

However, it wasn’t a total rebuild for seventh-year head coach Smith. He did have a second team all-state player returning in sophomore Sammie Sofonia who led the Spartans in scoring a season ago. Honorable mention 2018 all-state goalkeeper Alexis Bates was also back for her junior season.

Additionally, Brady watched last season’s second leading scorer, forward Sydney Wilcken, raise her game to a higher level. This season she led the Murray girls in goals scored, with 27. And like Graham, Lee and Mendenhall, from a year ago, the senior hopes to play collegiately next year.

“I’ve been contacted by two schools in Oregon, one in Kansas and a couple of others, about playing for them,” Wilcken said. “So, I think there’s a pretty good chance I will choose one of those and play college soccer.”

Soccer is the only sport Wilcken has played for Murray, spending four years in the forward position. Her highest scoring game came during the regular season, hosting Olympus, when she scored five goals. Sofonia also scored four goals in that 10-4 Spartan win.

Wilcken leaves the Murray soccer program having scored exactly 50 goals over her four seasons.  

Meantime, Sofonia appears destined to shatter the school’s career goal scoring record. After leading the team with 20 goals a year ago, she was second to Wilcken this year with 24. And the sophomore has two more seasons to go.

“I think the future looks bright; our returners are already excited to attack next season,” Smith said. “And after losing six starters (to graduation) a year ago, this year we lose only two – one forward (Wilcken) and one midfielder.” 

The Murray girls placed second in Region 6 this season – behind eventual Class 5A State Champion Skyline – with a league mark of 10-3-1.

In the state tournament the Spartans hosted Highland in the first round, shutting the Rams out 5-0. Next the Murray girls were forced to play on the road, but defeated Olympus for the third time on the year, 2-1.

The season came to an end in a quarterfinal upset, when the ninth-seeded Spartans hosted 16-seed Mountain View. The Utah County girls left the Murray field a 3-2 winner.

“We scored first in the Mountain View game at about the 20-minute mark and held that 1-0 lead until there were only 30 seconds left in the first half,” Smith explained. “Then one of our girls was called for a foul in the box, giving them a very close penalty kick. That call could have gone either way. They scored on the penalty kick and the game was tie 1-1 at halftime.”

Coach Smith said that last second, first half goal seemed to give Mountain View the momentum. The Bruins scored the next two goals, in the second half. Murray drew to within 3-2, with about three minutes remaining, but then ran out of time.

“I think after losing a handful of starters – from a team that advanced to the state championship game a year ago – I was proud of what we did this season,” Brady concluded. “We were a team that, at times, could beat anyone. We just struggled sometimes to be consistent. I’m proud of the work the girls put in and what they accomplished.”

After starting at Murray High School as a special education and math teacher, Brady is now in charge of coordinating student internships and organizing career day. After taking over a struggling Spartan girls soccer program seven years ago, he has now guided the team into the state tournament five straight seasons.

As of this year, simply advancing to state is no longer an accomplishment, because all teams now go to the post season. But, as the No. 9 seed into this year’s tournament, the Murray girls would have advanced again this year under the previous format.

Most significantly, a year ago the Spartans earned their first-ever state tournament victories – three of them – in route to the championship game. This season they followed that up with two more tournament wins. 

“I really like coach Smith and have learned a lot from him,” Wilcken concluded. “He’s very smart and makes good decisions during games.”