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The City Journals

Hillcrest’s ‘young’ boys soccer falls to eventual state champion, expected strong in next year’s play

Jul 06, 2021 03:29PM ● By Julie Slama

On senior night, the last home game of the regular season, senior Gavin Ladle goes after the ball in the Huskies 1-0 win over Skyline that gave them home field advantage in the first round of state playoffs. (Photo courtesy of Heidi Burri)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Hillcrest High senior Hilario Cruz led the 5A regular season in goals—18—on the soccer field this past spring.

The Deseret News’ first team all-state player even got some looks from college scouts, despite having a thigh muscle injury that hampered his mobility, coach Brett Davis said.

“We dealt with it with a trainer, but it didn’t allow him to have the flexibility in his movement to be able to collect balls and distribute balls as well as he could have…that probably reduced his goal count, I’m sure, but he still ended up on top; that’s amazing,” he said, adding that Cruz “never played in his position as a center fullback; we put him up as an attacking midfield role, because that’s what we needed.”

Along with junior Jose “Chito” Cortez, who led the team in nine assists and was named Deseret News’ 5A all-state honorable mention, and the play of defensive specialist junior Nate Collard, the three helped the Huskies to a 8-6 region record, finishing in fourth place and hosting a first-round 5A state tournament game.

The three also were voted by team members for top awards: Cruz as overall player of the year, Cortez as offensive player of the year and Collard as defensive player of the year. Senior Gavin Ladle received the coaches’ award for making a significant impact, and sophomore CJ Poulsen was given the unsung hero award for “saving our bacon a bunch of times,” Davis said.

“I’m pleased with how we played; we did really well and at some point in time, we beat everyone in region at least once,” the coach said. “That’s very impressive for a young team and they learned a lot through the course of the season.”

The team’s early big win was Olympus in their first home region game, winning two goals to none. They followed that up the following week with a 2-1 win over East at home. Brighton was the next to fall on the Huskies home field with a score of 3-1.

Hillcrest lost to Murray, Skyline and Highland, only to come back with wins against the Murray as well as East and Cottonwood. In their final regular home season game, they upset Skyline 1-0 and were put in the position to host Highland in the playoffs.

“You play so many games against your region, that your ranking or your RPI is compared mostly to all the other teams in your region as opposed to other regions. In our region, it was very, very close and the standings were very, very close. That means there were a lot of us really clumped up in the middle,” he said about the first season using the Rating Percentage Index system. “We finished high enough that we were able to host Highland (even though) Highland beat us twice in region.”

However, the 16th-ranked Huskies “took care of business” with an early lead to beat the 17th-ranked Rams, 3-2.

That win meant Hillcrest had to face the No. 1-seed, Wasatch Bees, on their home field in Heber City. 

“(We) outplayed them for 60 minutes. (It’s) tough to play against 12 seniors with only three (playing for the Huskies). Their physical maturity took its toll on us in the end,” Davis said.

Wasatch went on to win the state title. Of the four teams in the semifinals, Hillcrest had played three of them and beaten two, Skyline and Brighton, which are in its region.

However, as a young team—“we’ve got a number of sophomores who played well”—and a promising incoming freshman class, Davis feels that the team will play well in their new region next year.

“It’s time for a change and we need something a little different. We want to create some opportunities for our student-athletes that aren’t the same old thing, every single year,” he said. “(This is) such a strong group. They’re such a united, unified group of boys that like each other and hang out together and play club soccer as much as they can together. They know how to interact and play so it doesn’t take just a Chito or Jose or Nate Collard. They’re learning at this point, to play at a level where they don’t always have to worry about things because they know where people are going to be and where they’re going to run because they’re just used to it and because they’re such a tight group.”