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Midvale Journal

After 36 years, Hillcrest boys’ soccer claim region title

Jun 02, 2023 11:38AM ● By Julie Slama

It’s the first round of the 5A boys high school soccer playoffs and Hillcrest High is sitting out.

Coach Brett Davis is fine with that.

“We’ve had a pretty good season overall, so having a bye in the first round is great,” he said.

Hillcrest was ranked fourth in the state playoffs and defeated Bonneville High 3-2 in the second round May 16. The championship game was May 25, graduation day for the Huskies, but the focus wasn’t on that, but on the next game, Davis said.

During the season, the Huskies had a nine-game winning streak, including a 2-1 win in overtime on senior night. Their season leading up to playoffs was 12-3 overall, 10-2 in region play to be crowned region champions.

“There were some emotional games in there, and they did what they needed to do,” Davis said. “It’s been 36 years since we’ve had a region title in boys’ soccer.”

The team clinched the title with an overtime win May 3 on senior night against Cedar Valley High, although the trophy wasn’t presented until days later, at home after their last away game.

“The Cottonwood coach called me before the game to say they had won, which at that point, I knew we clinched it, but I didn’t share that with the boys because there are a lot of emotional things with senior night. If we had lost our last two, it would come down to a mathematical calculation based on RPI,” Davis said.

Besides that overtime game, the Huskies won on penalty kicks after being tied at the end of a double-overtime game against Cottonwood High. They also had a double overtime win against Spanish Fork High earlier in the season.

Senior CJ Poulsen is the team’s goalkeeper. “Being in goal in some of those games, can be a little stressful,” he said. “When I first started playing, I wasn’t able to handle the pressure, but as I’ve played more, I just have gotten used to it. I just focus on doing my job and know everybody else will do his. The penalty kicks against Cottonwood were a little stressful, but I knew that I was going to be able to save at least one of them.”

Davis said the team won those critical games during the stretch when they played eight matches in just over three weeks.

“They came away with wins, but especially late in the season, it’s tough having to play those extra minutes on the field. It adds up and it takes a toll on the boys physically, so the bye gives us a few extra days of rest,” he said. “Being in the top eight means we shouldn’t hit a team that’s above us until we get down to the final four.”

The team also will play on its new home grass field—previously, the team played on the football field—in front of the home crowd.

“It’s an advantage to play on our field where we’re able to practice on it every day and we know where the bumps are compared to a team to walk on and have to figure it out right then and there,” Poulsen said. 

Joining Poulsen, there are six other seniors, most who play in the backfield; they have played together for years.

Poulsen began playing competitively when he was 7 years old.

“I started playing with my brother played on our rec team and we were both people who we didn’t really want to run a ton, so my dad (who was the coach) said, ‘We don’t have any goalkeepers, do you want to play goalkeeper?’ I’ve played with some of these guys on club and Hillcrest teams for years and we all have a (player) group chat where after every game we always talk about how we just got to keep believing in each other. That’s what’s great about that team is that we always push each other. Winning the regional title, is something we’re all really proud of. It was probably one of the best moments I’ve ever had,” he said, adding that the locker room was a little “wild” in celebration.

Davis said this group has had different experiences than other teams.

“They established a strong camaraderie on their first tournament in St. George and when they came back, the team played one game and that was their season. COVID prevented them from even seeing their teammates that year so each season, they’re more grateful and determined to play their best,” he said.

Some of the older players on that team now are on the coaching staff, directing the seniors as well as some freshmen have gotten “significant minutes” in critical games, such as the Cottonwood High win. They also accrued minutes until senior Connor Walton recovered from injury.

“With a lot of young players, we pictured this year as an opportunity for the seniors to be mentors and for the younger players to bring extra passion and hunger to the game. We never set our goals on winning region, but we talked about the process of what we want to get to and that will bring the results. We spent a lot of time on goal setting individually at both practices and games so each time we step on the field, the question was, ‘How are we going to get better?’” he said.

The targets are SMART—or specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely.

Poulsen said that a typical goal for everyone on the team may be “I got to make sure my distribution, all my passes, is completed about 90% of the time. Then, one of the questions in our book is, ‘Did you meet your goal? Why or why not?’ We go over with the coach what could we do better and what we are going to do to fix it, so this mistake doesn’t happen again. He always demands excellence; he always wants us to be the best that we can be. When we’re not at that level, he will call us out for it. He’s the type of guy who will be serious when he needs to be, but he is also the coach that will crack a joke like there’s no tomorrow. It’s just so uplifting that he can change the team’s mood easily.”

Davis said his team would prepare for the playoffs (after press deadline) the same as they have all season.

“We taught them about controllable and uncontrollable factors, like you can’t control the field surface, the wind and the weather, but you can control how you personally perform—how you pass, how you strike the ball, how hard you work. We take it one game at a time, and we focus on what do we need to do to be better than we were the last game,” he said. “That’s where our focus will continue to be.”  λ