Cottonwood boys soccer season ends with first state tournament game in yearsMay 24, 2021 03:14PM ● By Brian Shaw
Cottonwood takes on Highland in region action. The Colts won its first game this season in several years. (City Journals)
By Brian Shaw | [email protected]ycityjournals.com
With a team as fit and ready as it has been all season, the Cottonwood Colts went into their first 5A state soccer tournament game in years feeling optimistic, according to head coach Dominic Militello.
“We were pretty healthy for the most part,” Militello said. “We were only missing one player due to injury.”
Ranked No. 29 in the Utah High School Activities Association RPI that seeds all the teams, the Colts hopped on the school bus Friday, May 14 and headed south toward Spanish Fork where they would take on their first round state playoff opponent, No. 4 seed Maple Mountain.
An hour later, the bus eased to a stop and out jumped the Colts, playing in their first state tournament game since 2011.
Wearing their new black and gold striped jerseys, the retired No. 20 jersey seated on a bench on the sideline to honor those unable to play in 2020, the Cottonwood players warmed up on a sunny afternoon deep in the heart of Utah County. A few minutes later, the whistle blew and the game got underway, said Militello.
“Maple Mountain is big, strong, smart...we knew we were in for a tough game,” said the Cottonwood head coach. “They got up on us early with three goals in the first half.”
The Colts came off the pitch at halftime trailing 3-0, but Militello added that the fighting spirit that Cottonwood had all season wasn’t gone despite being down on the road in the biggest game the program has had in 10 years.
“It could have been real easy for some of the kids to quit the team and give up — but despite the record they ALL hung in there and competed to the final whistle,” Militello said.
By the time the Colts walked back onto the field for the second half, they struck first, thanks to a mazy run by senior captain Pablo Calderon who collected the ball, slalomed past several defenders and slid the ball past the goalkeeper to cut Maple Mountain’s lead to 3-1.
“Pablo scored midway through the second half — we had the momentum and I believe we had better possession,” added Militello, who was frustrated by the lack of calls, in particular one in the last 20 minutes of the game that at the time was still 3-1 in favor of Maple Mountain.
“Late in the game, we believed we were fouled in the [Maple Mountain penalty] box — it ended up being a free kick for them,” said the Cottonwood head coach who then watched in vain as Maple Mountain scored right after the disputed call, against a shellshocked Colts side that watched in vain as the decision snatched the game and momentum out of Cottonwood’s grasp.
That made it 4-1 to Maple Mountain, which frustrated Militello, because in his estimation the Colts were so close to turning the game around and were denied the opportunity to do so.
“If we had been awarded the PK [penalty kick] it would have made it 3-2 — I believe we could have tied it up,” said the head coach. “Instead they get the call, go down and score — game over.”
Maple Mountain would tack on one more goal to take the 5-1 victory. None of this came without a fight from a Cottonwood side that would make what many thought would be an easy victory for the No. 4 Maple Mountain team anything but.
“It was our best game of the season — besides our win at East,” said Militello, whose Colts end the season at 1-16 overall and venture into a new region spread across 300 square miles for 2022.
For a Cottonwood side that played two juniors and six sophomores in almost every game in 2021, Militello said he intends to retain them all for what should be an even better year, next year.
“We are really excited for the new region and the group coming up! We were so proud of our guys this year,” added the Cottonwood head coach, now in his eighth year at the school. “You know, our record over the years is not a real good indication of the kind of kids we have and what we are able to get out of them.”