3A boys' soccer: Wasatch caps perfection with state crown (with video)
Sandy • It wasn't about the destination. It was about the ride and the pit stops. It was about the guys playing alongside each other, sprinting around a field just the way it was when they were in fifth grade, learning the ins and outs of the game.
The ride the Wasatch Wasps went on this year was irreplaceable, a season that will be talked about for a long time. Some players have played together since they were 12, and others dating back to second grade.
"Unexplainable," senior defender Cesar Vargas said.
There's actually quite a lot to explain. The Wasps won the Class 3A boys' soccer state crown Saturday, slipping past archival Park City 1-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium to finish the 2013 season a perfect 20-0.
The state title was the program's second in three years.
During his 23-year tenure at the helm, Wasatch coach Dawain Wheatley has experienced highs the school's first title game in a 1-0 win over Juan Diego in 2011 but he's seen countless classes roll through the school ending their careers in heartbreak.
Winning a state title is not easy.
"This group had creativity," he said. "But like all the groups that came through, we had the passion."
The passion to work through every obstacle thrown in their direction. They won two double-overtime games this season, fought off Dixie in the quarterfinals in a penalty shootout, survived a thriller against Ogden in the semis and rode Vargas' penalty kick rocket in the 15th minute Saturday to a championship.
"It's not a team," Vargas said, "it's a family."
Wheatley and his players said they never expected to run the tables entering the season. The focus of the season was to take each game as seriously as a state championship, never relent no matter the opponent and play the fast-paced, imaginative style of soccer this group of Wasps had grown to embody.
"I think we were all feeling the pressure," senior midfielder Hunter Ketterer said, "but we all knew that we could do it."
They did it, overcoming dramatic do-or-die scenarios when it mattered most.
"These kids know what it's like to lose," Wheatley said, "because we've been this close."
As a team that featured 13 seniors and a plethora of talented underclassmen, Wasatch perpetually forced the issue with opponents this season. When it had an opportunity to create something going toward the goal, the players had the confidence to drop jaws in the crowd.
Long after they'd won it all, the Wasps hoisted injured senior Alex Espinoza into the air. The diminutive star had suffered a tendon injury in his ankle during the last game of the regular season, an injury that clearly hampered his relentless style of play.
But the injury, as he described it, healed when it wasn't supposed to. He played Saturday and was part of the mob scene when the Wasps capped perfection.
"Not many people do that," Espinoza said.
Not the way the Wasps did. Not the way they came to their final destination.