Oakley Rasmussen poy

Ridgeline’s Oakley Rasmussen is The Herald Journal’s All-Valley Soccer Player of the Year. Rasmussen will play collegiately at the University of Florida.

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MILLVILLE — Navigating through COVID-19 has been a challenge for all high school athletes, but one could argue the pandemic was a blessing in disguise for the Ridgeline girls soccer program.

You see, if it wasn’t for COVID, standout midfielder Oakley Rasmussen wouldn’t have suited up for the Lady Riverhawks. As a freshman, sophomore and junior, the Millville native spent her falls competing in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy for her club team, La Roca. However, the Academy elected to suspend all of its operations until at least April of 2021 due to the virus.

This allowed Rasmussen to play high school soccer for the first time, and she made the most of her opportunity. No. 6 matched Halle Van Yperen for the team lead with 16 goals and contributed with 12 assists for Ridgeline, which won its last 10 matches and dispatched of defending champion Ogden in the 4A state title showdown.

“High school was so fun, such a fun social experience to get to be able to play in front of all my friends and peers, and to represent my school,” Rasmussen said. “And it was so fun to meet lots of new girls that were on the team and practice with them every day, work hard for each other and really bond together. ... It was also fun to get coached by new coaches that helped me become a better player.”

Ridgeline head coach Mark Tureson was certainly grateful for the chance to help mentor Rasmussen, even if it was only for a few months.

“To me, adding her to an already great team, it was such a joy,” Tureson said. “It was a joy to watch them come together with Oakley, and it was a joy to watch Oakley play high school (soccer), enjoy it. There were so many people around Oakley at school that never really had seen her play or knew how good she was. And much like Abbie Kotter last year, it was just a joy to watch her come together with that team to experience that (success).”

The 2020 prep girls soccer season was a banner one for athletes from Cache Valley. Every team in the valley was legitimately good enough to have made a deep run in the playoffs, and Preston was triumphant in Idaho’s 4A division. Arguably no local player made more of an impact than Rasmussen, who was selected as the 4A MVP by the Deseret News. The daughter of Jeff and Katjio Rasmussen is also The Herald Journal All-Valley Player of the Year.

“All the region teams are super good and it is really a competitive region every year, so it felt good to win region and go on to win state,” said Rasmussen, who made it a point to thank the Ridgeline coaches for “pushing us each and every game to become a state championship team, so big props to them.”

Rasmussen was definitely a big reason why the Riverhawks captured their first state championship in program history, and she excelled despite playing out of position. Nevertheless, it was very clear the future University of Florida player would be able to make the switch from holding midfielder to attacking midfielder/forward from the get-go as she scored in Ridgeline’s season opener against Skyridge and created a handful of other dangerous opportunities.

“Oakley naturally plays a six, she plays a defensive mid,” Tureson said. “We saw what she could do to a defense and we asked her to play in a position that she wasn’t really ... familiar with. She’d never really played up front in a forward and attacking role. She was more of that defensive mid and so pretty much this whole year she was learning how to play that offensive skill set, and that was the thing I loved about her. Nobody probably ever knew. Everybody probably just assumed that’s what she always played. That was just because she was so adaptable and so willing. She was like, ‘I’m willing to do whatever you need me to do.’ ... She never complained, she just trained extra so it became a little more natural as the season progressed.”

Rasmussen’s work ethic is something that immediately caught the attention of Tureson.

“Well, I’ll tell you one thing about Oakley, she is as good as she is because she works that hard,” he said. “She brought kind of an intensity and focus to her training. A lot of the girls would stay after and train with her. ... She’s just constantly focused on training, on getting better and I think it rubbed off.”

When asked about her favorite memories of last season outside of winning region and state championships, Rasmussen smiled and reminisced about the daily grind with her teammates. It’s something the 18-year-old relishes.

“Even when our coach would say, ‘three deep on the end line,’ which meant conditioning, but that conditioning really paid off in the end,” Rasmussen said. “So I think just working hard for each other throughout the whole season made it pay off even more in the end, made the payoff even better.”

Contending with a player of Rasmussen’s skill set and work rate was a daunting challenge for opposing defenses. The senior is a very crafty dribbler, has a rocket of a right foot, is extremely dangerous while taking free kicks, is a very good distributor and is very strong, making it difficult to knock her off the ball.

“The hardest thing a defender can deal with is someone who loves running at you with pace,” Tureson said. “... That’s something Oakley is very good at.”

In addition to being a well-rounded player this past fall, Rasmussen was also a consistent one — one who contributed with a goal or an assist in 15 of Ridgeline’s 21 matches this fall. The captain recorded a hat trick in the playoffs against Cedar Valley, plus netted two goals in games against Alta, Mountain Ridge, Bear River and Logan.

Rasmussen played some of her best soccer at the end of the season. No. 6 finished with four goals and five assists in five postseason matches. A pair of Rasmussen free kicks ultimately resulted in the Riverhawks’ final two goals — both rebounds — in their 3-2 triumph over Ogden in the finals.

“I was really cool to be able to win state and contribute to that game with my free kicks,” said Rasmussen, who has been playing soccer since she was 5 years old and has been competing at the club level for La Roca since she was a fifth-grader. “I just knew we needed goals and it was such a close, tight game the entire game, so that made it even more special to get that last goal with like three minutes left.”

Rasmussen will now turn her focus to making an impact at the Division I level. She also considered scholarship offers from Oregon, Miami, Texas, Utah State and Utah Valley before choosing Florida. Rasmussen signed with the Gators last November and is anticipating arriving on campus at the end of June or early July.

“I’m super excited to play in the SEC,” said Rasmussen, who is currently recovering from a right knee injury. “It will be so fun to become better and to have to push myself even harder to compete with all of the good college teams. But I’m so excited about the opportunity to play college soccer.”

DEFENSIVE MVP

Kylie Larsen, Preston

This four-year starting defender capped off her high school career in style as she led Preston to the 4A state title and was selected as the Player of the Year in her classification. The 5-foot-10 center back was also tabbed the All-Area Player of the Year by the Idaho State Journal.

Larsen anchored a Preston backline that shut out nine opponents in 2020 and limited five others to one goal. Larsen and the Indians kept then-undefeated Twin Falls off the scoreboard in the 4A title match. Preston won its final seven matches last fall and finished with a record of 14-6.

The senior was also an offensive threat for Preston on set pieces as she scored three goals and assisted on four others. Larsen, a standout basketball player, will play college soccer for Snow College.

“Kylie over the years has developed into everything you could ever ask for as a center back and a leader,” Preston head coach Brandon Lyon said. “She has worked so hard in becoming the best center back and best player in the state, and she was rightly rewarded with those accolades. She is extremely gifted physically, but her understanding of the game and the position is what put her over the top this year. Her command in the back, her aerial ability and her talent on set pieces is second to none at the high school level. And she is not even close to her ceiling as a player and an athlete.”

OFFENSIVE MVP

Addison Moser, Preston

Moser blew out her knee in the first round of the 2019 district tournament, and her offensive prowess and leadership was solely missed. The Indians went from a bona fide state title contender to a team that lost in a state play-in game.

The midfielder/forward wasn’t quite 100 percent healthy as a senior, but that didn’t prevent her from wreaking havoc on opposing backlines. Moser led all local players with 22 goals this past fall, and also chipped in with five assists. No. 13 recorded hat tricks against Marsh Valley and Burley, and found the back of the net twice against Burley, Hillcrest, Skyline, Canyon Ridge and Century (twice).

The future Iowa Western Community College Player — she will be joined there by fellow first-team all-state honoree and Preston goalkeeper Sydnee Marlow — contributed with three goals and one assist in three state tournament matches.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever coached a player that worked harder than Addison did to come back from an injury like she did from the ACL tear,” Lyon said. “We knew a lot of our success this year would depend on her recovery, and she came back and didn’t miss a beat. Her ball skills and finishing ability are outstanding and they improved each year through high school, as she was our leading scorer each of her four years. I look forward to seeing her continue to improve and have success at the next level.”

TOP NEWCOMER

Haley Anderson, Ridgeline

The future Snow College basketball player didn’t play soccer as a junior and was on the JV squad during prior years with the program, but didn’t skip a beat.

Not only did Anderson shake off the rust in a hurry, she developed into a Division I caliber talent, Tureson asserted.

“As soon as Haley came out for training, it was amazing ... that her technical skills were there and almost enhanced,” Tureson said. “... We had a hole in our backline that we were trying to figure out how to shore up, but between her technical skill and her speed (she was that missing piece), and then as she played she started to read the game just so well. As a coach, if you can check boxes off of your ideal center back, she checked them all off. It was just a joy to watch her come out and just master that position.”

Anderson and fellow center back Carly Eubanks anchored a Ridgeline defense that shut out nine opponents in ‘20 and limited seven others to just one goal. Anderson garnered second-team all-state accolades during her lone season at the varsity level.

Jason Turner is a sports reporter for The Herald Journal. He can be reached at jturner@hjnews.com or 435-792-7237.

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