DRAPER — Twenty minutes before Tuesday’s 6A girls soccer state semifinal between Davis and Pleasant Grove, the Darts had an issue.
Their starting forward, who was at practice Monday, was at home Tuesday with the flu.
“I didn’t even find out she wasn’t going to be here until we got on the bus and I was like, ‘Oh, crap, one of our forwards is gone,’” Darts senior midfielder Reagan Neuenswander said.
Head coach Souli Phongsavath had to radically change the team’s formation from a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 just 20 minutes before the game.
Fundamentally, it can be quite a different philosophy and it makes a tough job for the lone forward up top.
All it resulted in was what he called the team’s most complete half of the season, which led to a 1-0 win over the Vikings at Juan Diego Catholic High, sending the Darts to Friday’s state championship game at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Neuenswander scored the game’s only goal, a header from a chaotic set piece with less than a minute left in the first half.
Belle Mark’s free kick found Neuenswander, who headed the ball off the frame of the goal. The ball fell to Halle Lund, who also headed the ball off the frame.
The rebound went to Neuenswander and the third time was the charm as she headed the ball into an open net to the anger of PG’s goalkeeper, who appealed to the referee for offside but to no avail.
“We worked really hard as a team for that (goal), I think we definitely earned that goal,” Neuenswander said. “We had to lay everything on the line no matter what the circumstances were.”
The state title game is, of course, a familiar spot for Davis, which won three straight state titles from 2014-16 and won 45 straight games during that period.
Since then, the Darts’ postseason runs have ended in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
The difference with this year’s team, Phongsavath said, is that the players have grown mentally.
“Playing big in big moments. We’ve had to grind to get to where we are right now: really close games, we won in double overtime the last time. Those little things,” he said. “I remember last year with this same team, we would lose overtime games and not finish the job, and even earlier this year. Our golden goal (against Syracuse) was the first time we’ve won in overtime.”
For the most part, the game was played between the 20-yard markers on JD’s football field. There were only a handful of close chances between the two sides — Darts goalkeeper Taygan Sill calmly saved a handful of long shots — and they fell to Davis.
“We wanted to clog the middle against these guys, we knew they were strong in the middle, that they wanted to take shots outside the 18 (yard box), so we did our best to clog the middle and prevent those outside shots,” Phongsavath said.
Junior midfielder Grace Nicol, Davis’ leading goalscorer, got a through ball and slid for a shot in the box, only for PG goalkeeper Evy Brimhall to slide and block the shot.
A few minutes later, and with maybe 30 seconds left in the first half, Davis won a free kick outside the box that Mark hit into the perfect spot for Neuenswander to start the chaotic goal sequence.
The Darts had to play off their back foot in the second half as the Vikings chased an equalizer, but the few PG forays forward were dealt with by Davis defenders.