Seemingly every year at least a handful of Cache Valley athletes accept scholarship offers to play college soccer, and 2019 is no different.
Nine recent high school graduates from the valley have signed with collegiate programs, and the five from Sky View were profiled in a previous story that ran in The Herald Journal. The other four — Dylan McCuskey (Logan), Kennedy Michel (Logan), Lauren McConnell (Mountain Crest) and Alyssa Wood (Preston) — will be profiled in this story.
McCuskey worked extremely hard in the classroom and on the pitch, and it paid off with an athletic/academic scholarship to Pomona College, a Division III liberal arts college in Claremont, California.
“I’ve been playing soccer for 15 years and I knew in high school that I wanted to keep playing in college, and so it’s amazing that it worked out for me to both go to an awesome school that I loved and keep playing soccer there,” McCuskey said. “It was the perfect situation for me.”
The son of Kristine Miller and Brian McCuskey led the Grizzlies in goals as a junior (11) and senior (eight), and was the team’s second-leading scorer as a sophomore (four). As a senior, McCuskey recorded a brace in a match against eventual 4A champion Sky View, and also found the back of the net against eventual 4A runner-up Desert Hills.
When the speedy forward wasn’t making life difficult on opposing backlines, he flat-out excelled in the classroom. Despite taking a whopping 11 AP classes, McCuskey still managed to graduate with a 4.0 GPA. Not only that, the academic all-state selection scored a perfect 36 on the ACT.
“It’s awesome that I’ve had the people to support me in everything that I do, because it’s not easy to be good on the field and off the field as I’m sure any student-athlete will tell you,” McCuskey said. “But I’ve had a great support system with my family, my friends and other athletes like Bennett (Browning) who were doing the same kind of thing that have helped me really push myself on the field to get better and maintain everything off the field. Without people like that in my life it would have been impossible to do it, so I think that’s what really means the most.”
McCuskey, who is very technical on the ball, is a big reason the Grizzlies have developed into one of the most consistent programs in the state. Logan won at least one playoff match in each of McCuskey’s years with the team. It’s something the Logan native will always cherish.
“That group of guys, they’re some of my best friends and they’re going to keep being some of my best friends for the rest of my life,” McCuskey said. “It was being able to play with all of them for the four years, but then also a lot of them I’ve played with for even longer than that, and so they’re really my brothers and they mean everything to me.”
McCuskey made it a point to thank his high school and club coaches, including Natalie Norris, Kody Klaassen and Jorge Cruz by name.
“I couldn’t have been the player or student that I am today without them,” he said.
Michel parlayed a memorable four-year varsity career with the Grizzlies into a scholarship offer from a very good D-II program in Bemidji State, which is located in Minnesota. The Beavers went 18-1-2 in 2018 and finished with an impressive goal differential of 48-11.
“Oh, I’m really excited because it just shows that they’re committed to (being a good program) and they know what they’re doing, so I’m excited to join Bemidji State,” Michel said.
The daughter of Fawn and Darin Michel was a sophomore when she first came in contact with Bemidji State while competing with her club team at the well-renowned Surf Cup in San Diego. She had other offers to play college soccer, but Bemidji State was always at the top of her list.
Having the chance to play at the next level is a dream come true for the skilled midfielder.
“Oh, it means a lot because it’s always been a dream of mine since I was a little kid to play in college, and so to be able to have the opportunity to play at such a good school which has a winning record and is a really great program, it just means a lot to me,” said Michel, who has a deadly free kick.
Michel shined as a senior for the Region 12 champion Grizzlies as she matched fellow first-team all-state honoree Bizzy Arevalo for the team lead with 13 goals. Michel also chipped in with three assists.
During Michel’s prep career, the Grizzlies captured a trio of region titles and won the 3A state championship in 2015. Logan went 16-3-0 when Michel was a senior.
“It meant a lot to be able to have a lot of success throughout my years with all of the different teams that we had,” Michel said. “To have such strong, winning teams nearly every year, it’s something I take a lot of pride in.”
McConnell is one of two local class of 2019 players who signed with Weber State. Recent Sky View graduate Sadie Noble is the other. Like Noble, the daughter of Ivette and David McConnell had other offers.
“I almost went to Utah State, which would have been cool, but something about Weber State just felt right, so here I am,” McConnell said.
The midfielder/forward graduated from Mountain Crest, but didn’t play for the Mustangs as a junior and senior because she was competing in the fall with the La Roca Developmental Academy team. Much like Mendon native and current USU forward Marli Niederhauser, the Developmental Academy did an excellent job helping McConnell prepare to compete at the D-I level.
“I thought it prepared me a lot, just because of the competition,” said McConnell, who would travel to Weber County four or five times a week to practice with her club team. “The competition, it’s super fast paced with the Development Academy. It’s supposed to be the highest level of competition (for my age group) and I think that’s what helped me the most, because in college you’re going to be playing against girls that are quite a few years older than you and they’re all (really good) players.”
The Mount Sterling native and Nibley resident is excited to play for a Weber State program that went 9-5-4 a year ago and captured the regular season Big Sky Conference title. The Wildcats’ interim head coach is former Mountain Crest and Weber State star goalkeeper Meagan Thunell.
“It still seems unreal, just because this is what I’ve been wanting and pushing for ever since I was little,” said McConnell, who has extensive Olympic Development Program experience. “Once I heard about college ball, it was like, ‘OK, I’m doing that no matter what.’ And then I remember verbally committing and it was like, ‘what now? This is all I’ve been working for,’ and now that I’m actually here and training with the team, it’s still so weird. It doesn’t seem real ... but it feels good to have achieved that goal, and I’m super excited. I love the girls already and I love the coaches, and I can’t wait to see where the four years go.”
Wood’s goal of playing two sports in college in now a reality. The Preston native will lace up the cleats and play soccer at Blue Mountain Community College, and then immediately turn around and play point guard for the Timberwolves’ basketball program.
The soccer and basketball seasons will overlap a little bit, so Wood will miss some preseason basketball stuff, “but I won’t miss a ton.”
“I’m so grateful to be here and have the opportunity to continue (playing my sports),” Wood said. “I didn’t want it to end after high school, so I’m just so happy to be playing soccer and basketball.”
The daughter of Cindy and Jeremy Wood also received offers to play both sports at a couple of other junior colleges — including one at Yakima Valley College she seriously considered — “but Blue Mountain won my heart.”
What ultimately gave Blue Mountain the edge?
“I felt more like a home town to me,” Wood said of the college based in Pendleton, Oregon. “It’s not small, but it’s a lot bigger than Preston. But it just reminds me of home, so I really liked that about it.”
Another thing that made the decision easier for Wood is she will be joined on the T-wolves’ basketball team by former Preston teammate Shaylee Priestley. Another connection for Wood is former Preston softball player Sadie Garner just completed her second year at Blue Mountain.
“It’s nice knowing that I’m going to have one of my best friends playing ball with me again, so it will make the transition a lot easier because someone from home’s here with me,” Wood said. “I’m excited about that.”
Wood fared well in both of her sports as a senior at Preston, especially as a midfielder on the soccer team. She scored 13 goals and led all Cache Valley players with 17 assists. As the Indians’ starting point guard, Wood averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game. The quick and athletic guard buried a team-high 44 3-pointers and shot 44 percent from beyond the arc.
Wood made it a point to thank her coaches and teammates for “helping me get to where I am. I wouldn’t be the player or who I am (as a person) without them.”