Editor’s note: This is the third of an 11-part series profiling various spring high school sports in Cache Valley and recognizing the seniors from those teams.
Two years ago, local lacrosse players, coaches and fans received some delightful news when the Utah High School Activities Association announced it would be sanctioning the sport, starting in the spring of 2019.
The opportunity to compete for UHSAA-sanctioned state championships was supposed to be a reality for Cache Valley high school girls and boys lacrosse players this spring. Unfortunately for those athletes, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of what was supposed to be a historic season barely after it started.
Of Cache County’s four prep girls lacrosse programs, only Mountain Crest was able to play a game before the season came to a halt. The Mustangs were fortunate to get four contests in — four more than Sky View, Green Canyon and Ridgeline. Logan does not have a team.
The four local squads were set to compete in a region — 5A Region 5 — with Bear River, Box Elder and Utah Military Academy. High school lacrosse in Utah is currently divided into six total regions and two classifications — 5A and 6A.
Here is a breakdown of each Cache County team:
A good mix of veterans and promising newcomers had Sky View head coach Johanna Conrad pumped up about the 2020 season. The Bobcats brought back seven returning starters, including Lyndsie Thacker, who “college recruiters would have been in heaven watching her,” Conrad proclaimed.
Sky View was the top local team last season as it defeated Ridgeline (16-6) and Mountain Crest (8-6). The Bobcats went 6-6 during the 2019 campaign.
“Last season we were (the) best (team) in our region and this year we were planning on being the same,” Conrad said. “With finally being sanctioned, we’d officially be recognized. We have an amazing team. So many new girls that worked hard, and we have amazing returning players. Anyone could have a breakout (season).”
Thacker was Sky View’s second-leading scorer last spring with 20 goals. She is one of six Bobcat seniors, along with Ashley Julander, Haylee Sparks, Starr (Nikayla) Nielson, Shaylee Peterson and Annalise McCammon. Julander, Sparks, Thacker and Peterson all are captains.
Conrad is heartbroken for this senior class.
“Our seniors are unforgettable,” Conrad said. “Each one of them worked to the bone for this season. They’ve talked about it for years on how they would make their last year unforgettable, and they did. These girls started rough in their first years. They didn’t have experienced coaches, the sport wasn’t the most organized, they weren’t recognized and mainly because no one properly taught them the game. After last year these girls had hope. They won more games than they ever had in one season. These girls helped us coaches a lot too. ... When we announced the cancellation, we only had one senior respond. The silence in itself was devastating.”
Conrad is looking forward to giving these girls a proper send-off and said “we do have a surprise for the seniors in the work.”
In addition to Thacker, Sky View’s other returning starters are Julander, Bailey Ashby, Sparks, Kendra Favela, Nielson and Katie Luca Secrist. Sparks dealt with “spontaneous” knee dislocations, “but when she was on the field, she figured out each move perfectly to avoid a dislocation, get around her defender and get off the golden shot,” Conrad said.
A couple of younger girls Conrad is expecting big things from are Mavi Costley and Zoie Durrant.
The 2020 season was shaping up to be especially memorable for the Wolves because this is the school’s first-ever squad. Of their 12 athletes, seven played on Sky View’s club team during the 2019 campaign.
“I was really looking to work on growing the program and creating more interest in the sport,” GC head coach Liz Hansen said. “Girls lacrosse has been around as a club sport in the valley since around 2008, but the teams up here in the north have had a tougher time growing than in the teams further south. ... My goals for the team this season were really centered around building the team and helping everyone to learn the sport.”
Although Green Canyon’s squad is small in numbers, the Wolves have some talented players. For starters, senior Annabelle Hoffman was Sky View’s third-leading scorer a year ago with 19 goals in just 10 games. Hoffman is one of just two Green Canyon seniors, along with Kylie George.
George and Hoffman have been dedicated to lacrosse for several years now, and Hansen is devastated their prep careers came to a screeching halt.
“It was very difficult to tell the seniors that their season was over before it even really started,” Hansen said. “As I said, they’d put a lot of work into building the program, and I think it was tough to not be able to see their work pay off at games. Both of the seniors on the team have been playing for all four years of high school — they were actually freshmen on the team when I was a senior — and its been a really cool experience to see how they’ve grown and developed their lacrosse abilities, and become the leaders of the team they are today.”
Administrators at Green Canyon are planning on hanging up all of the senior posters at the school to honor their spring sports class of 2020 athletes, Hansen said.
Hoffman is one of three captains for the Wolves, along with junior Jaiden Cuff and sophomore Janessa Grove, who Hansen felt “would have had an amazing season.” Hansen also raved about the ability of freshman Lauren Harris.
The rest of Green Canyon’s roster is comprised of sophomores Amy Ibarra, Brooke Harris and Hannah Meeks, and freshmen Keilani Wiltsie, Jentry Helquist and Ava Banham.
The Wolves are especially looking forward to squaring off against Sky View, “and I think those are the (games) we are most disappointed about missing out on,” Hansen asserted.
The Riverhawks were very hungry to prove this would have been their breakout season as they returned 12 girls with starting experienced from their 2019 squad. Ridgeline welcomed back two of its three top scorers from a year ago, including Cora Martinez, who led all local prep girls with 25 goals.
“Our realistic expectations for the team this year was to win region,” Ridgeline head coach Aaron Quiggle said. “We only lost four seniors from last year and had enough returning players with experience to have a solid team. We even had five new freshman with a couple years experience from youth leagues. The majority of players played in summer and fall leagues to be prepared for this season. We’d been practicing five days a week since the beginning of January, including many 6 a.m. practices. The whole team was dedicated and passionate about this year’s season.”
Martinez, who Quiggle said “is the hardest-working player I’ve ever coached,” is one of four Ridgeline seniors. The other 12th-graders are Brielle Merkley, Elizabeth Lundahl and Sammy Duersch. Merkley and Martinez are captains, along with Belle Quiggle and Maddie Topham.
Duersch, Lundahl and Merkley anchored the Riverhawks defensively, and coach Quiggle contended those “three girls together would have made our defense unbeatable.”
Unfortunately for these four experiences seniors, they didn’t even get to play a single game in ’20.
“We have four seniors and yes it was devastating for each of them,” coach Quiggle said. “As I’ve mentioned, they are all four-year players who have invested so much time, effort, and passion into the game. They all had their minds set on winning region their final year.”
Coach Quiggle plans on “having some sort of awards ceremony to honor the team and the seniors.”
In addition to the aforementioned athletes, Ridgeline’s other returning varsity mainstays are Kayla Pignataro, Kylee Andersen, Maddie Wall, Mady Nelson, Nika Fredrickson and Sydnee Seeholzer.
Belle Quiggle ranked third on the squad with 15 goals last spring. Belle Quiggle and Topham “were emerging as top draw specialists,” coach Quiggle said. “Their speed and athleticism combined would have ensured high-scoring, action-packed games.”
Like Ridgeline, Mountain Crest brought back a lot of its returning starters and was anticipating a memorable spring.
“This season our main focus was the development of skills and improving our ability to work as a team,” MC head coach Erika Loftin said. “Since this was the first year, we weren’t quite sure what to expect, So we focused on team building and helping one another as much as possible. One concrete goal that we had for the team was to score 100 goals throughout the season, in an effort to improve our offensive skills. Our team was very fortunate because we have a lot of excellent players that have years of experience from other club and youth teams. This is something that’s rare for lacrosse in the valley and, therefore, we had a team that I felt would be unstoppable.”
The Mustangs have a relatively big senior class, consisting of Abigail Aston, Samantha Hulme, Giulia Gani, Hannah Welker, Viola Pinchiorri and Kori Wakley. Hulme was Mountain Crest’s second-leading goal scorer last year with 16, while Wakley was one of the team’s two primary goalies.
Loftin was very pleased with how well how seniors were performing before the season came to a screeching halt. Welker, a defender, was meshing really well with Wakley, Loftin said.
“Our seniors have been amazing examples for our team on sportsmanship and work ethic,” Loftin said. “We are all going to miss them. Having to announce that there wouldn’t be a season was heartbreaking. Thinking back to my own time in high school made me feel extremely disappointed that these players wouldn’t have the season they deserved.”
Plans to recognize these seniors haven’t been finalized and “this will be different given the social distancing guidelines, but we will do everything in our power to make them feel appreciated,” Loftin asserted.
Loftin is excited about the future of the program and said “our starting lineup includes lots of underclassmen that I feel will be players to watch for in the coming years, such as Taryn Durham, Sarah Keller, Brooklyn Wright, Charly Peck, Heather Holyoak, Alicia Solano, Avery Williams, and Emmalee Leishman.” All of these competitors are sophomores or juniors.
Mountain Crest’s captains are Aston, Hulme and Welker.