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The City Journals

Murray high schools claim one state title and two second place finishes in 2018

Dec 14, 2018 01:06PM ● By Carl Fauver

Soccer 5: Senior Abbi Graham looks to turn her defender during the 5A state championship game at Rio Tinto Stadium. Though the Spartans finished second, it was their best season in school history. (Justin Adams/City Journals)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

It was an exciting 2018 for a number of athletes and coaches with roots in the Murray community. 

Murray High School graduate David Collette helped guide his University of Utah basketball team to the championship game of the National Invitational Tournament (while also becoming a new father during the playoff run).

Cottonwood High School graduate Gary Andersen moved back to Murray – after football head coaching jobs took him to Utah State, Wisconsin and Oregon State – to become the University of Utah’s new associate head and defensive line coach.

American International School of Utah (AISU) graduate Justen Glad continued his play for Real Salt Lake, helping to guide the team to the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2018 Audi MLS Cup playoffs.

Cottonwood High School graduate Ali Ibanez spent a month in Europe playing for the U.S. Women’s National Wheelchair Basketball team, which she hopes to return to in 2020 for the Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

Murray High School graduate Drew Staley got a taste of celebrity life when he played a summer of collegiate baseball for the Badlands Big Sticks in Dickinson, North Dakota, where “they treated (him) like a rock star.”

And there were many other instances of individual athletic accomplishment through the year.  For starters, a handful of athletes earned scholarships to continue playing at the collegiate level. 

However, for the purpose of a 2018 sports retrospective we will instead glance back at the top trends and accomplishments at each of the four high schools that call Murray home: tiny private school Mount Vernon Academy, charter school AISU, and Class 5A public schools Murray and Cottonwood.

Murray HS soccer team makes history, placing second in state

Murray High School’s fall teams enjoyed much success, as the Spartan football team returned to the state tournament for the first time since 2015 and the girls volleyball team placed seventh in state.

But they were both upstaged by the historic effort of the Murray girls soccer team which not only earned its first post season victories ever – but also stacked three of them together, in a week’s time, to advance to the Class 5A state championship game (where the Spartans fell to Corner Canyon High School). 

“Our only losses all year were bookends to our season,” head coach Brady Smith said. “We lost our first game of the year, 3-0, at Corner Canyon and then lost our final game – the state championship – to the same team, 2-1, at Rio Tinto. No one else beat us all year.”

Starting girls soccer play in 1992, the Murray girls had never tasted post season victory. Their first of the three wins came in a shootout against Alta High, after the teams ended regulation play, and two 10-minute overtime periods, tied 1-1.

That win was followed by a 5-1 victory over Roy High School in the quarterfinals and a 1-0 win over Timpview in a state semifinal at Juan Diego High School.   

“I am so happy with all the hard work this group put in and all they have accomplished,” Smith said. “Their work ethic was incredible, they got along so well together and they raised each other’s level of play. This year’s team has lifted our program, I think, for years to come. I am extremely proud of them all.” 

The Murray girls ended their regular season ranked No. 1 by the Deseret News, with an overall record of 13-1-1. The Spartans’ Region 6 championship record was 9-0-1, the only blemish a tie with Olympus. Their final record for the year was 16-2-1. 

Cottonwood HS swim teams place first and second in state

One rout and one cliffhanger at the Utah 5A State Swimming Finals proved to be a good news/bad news split for Cottonwood High School teams. While the Colt girls ran away with their state title – by one of the widest margins of victory ever – the CHS boys saw a 9-point lead, after the first day of competition, turn into a 33.5-point loss, on day two.

“This was such a fun and dynamic group to coach; I couldn’t be happier,” said Cottonwood head swimming coach Ron Lockwood.  “The boys came up a little short, but second place is still a great finish. The girls had a championship goal all season and met it. That was awesome.”

After placing second in state a year ago, the Colt girls led this year’s 5A finals from start to finish, crushing second place Skyline, 320 to 200. On the boys’ side, the Colts led Brighton 91-82 after day one, but fell to the Bengals on day two, with a final score of 287 to 253.5.

The Cottonwood girls swim team dominated their 5A state finals meet to earn the school’s first state swimming title in 37 years. The Colt boys team nearly made it a sweep, but finished second in state to Brighton. (Photo courtesy Ron Lockwood)

 As expected, senior Rhyan White finished first in every race she swam at the state finals, while also being named Utah’s high school female swimmer of the year, for the fourth straight year.    For the Cottonwood girls, it was their first state swim title since claiming back-to-back championships in 1980 and ’81. For the Colt boys, you also have to go all the way back to 1980 to find the only team from the school to place higher than this year’s group. The CHS boys and girls both claimed titles in 1980, a double dip they were hoping to repeat last season. 

White was not actually a student of Cottonwood High School, but instead attended the Academy for Math, Engineering & Science (AMES) charter school, housed within CHS.   

Like Rhyan, AMES senior Christian Simon also swam four years for the Colts, starting as a freshman. In leading his team to their second place finish, Simon placed first in three of his four races: the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyles and 400 freestyle relay.  

Both were planning to swim collegiately.

“I’m proud of both of them and all of our swimmers,” Lockwood concluded. “They were all good kids who worked hard to achieve our goals.”

Mount Vernon HS fields a new team in a new (to them) gymnasium

Murray’s Mount Vernon Academy made some history of its own in 2018, playing their first actual “home” basketball games, after moving from their historic Vine Street location (which did not have a regulation gym) to the former Christ Lutheran Church School (240 E. 5600 South).

In addition to giving the basketball team their first true home games ever, the new facility also allowed the Patriots to resurrect their girls volleyball team for the first time in nine years.

“In a school our size, we don’t always know from one year to the next whether we will field a team,” said Mt. Vernon Principal (and frequent coach of various teams) Mike Lambson. “We normally poll our kids ahead of time, and when there is enough interest to put a team together, we do it. We had not had a girls volleyball team since 2009 (until last fall). I suspect part of the reason for that was the lack of gym space we had (at the previous campus).”

The Patriot volleyballers lost more than they won – but also enjoyed more success than many expected – under new head coach Kristen Henry. Her daughter, junior Emily Henry, was among those leading the team.

American International School works to improve athletic facilities

And finally – speaking of gymnasium issues – that proved a problem for the American International School of Utah (AISU), housed in what was once the 49th Street Galleria, just west of I-15. When the facility the school was renting for “home” games closed a year ago (the Sports World Event Center at 750 S. 4400 West) the Dragons’ volleyball and basketball teams became homeless.

That forced school officials to make one of their biggest 2018 focuses to be prioritizing construction of a new gymnasium on campus.

Last spring, AISU earmarked all of their earnings – at the school’s annual spring fundraising gala – for construction of a new gym.  And this fall, new school leaders reiterated their commitment to the project, as funding allows.

“Athletics is a way for our students to receive mentorship and to learn teamwork,” new AISU Executive Director Tasi Young said.  “Many of our students may not think of themselves as athletes. But they all can be, to some extent, after spending time with mentors.  We are determined to give our AISU students a well-rounded education, which includes athletics.”

The challenge at the moment for AISU is that other areas need funding at the school as well. At least that’s the opinion of Athletic Director Mike Ashton.

“Other funding needs have come up over the year, delaying our gymnasium project,” Ashton explained. “But we do remain committed to getting that done, as a long-term plan.”

The third “newcomer” making decisions about high school athletics at AISU is one of the new directors (principals) Young hired.  Abbey Wallace was named the high school director this summer, after teaching at 14 different schools in six countries. She had been the school’s international director.

“Athletics are extremely important to our students, to help develop character and leadership skills,” Wallace said. “I know once we have a new gymnasium here, it will draw more student interest and will strengthen our athletic programs. But due to other budget concerns right now, spending money on that facility has had to be put on the back burner.”

Administrators, coaches and athletes at each of the four Murray high schools now look forward to even more successes in 2019.