Syracuse • It’s been a season of firsts for the Syracuse High girls’ soccer team. After dwelling in or near the basement of Regions 1 and 2 for the majority of their history, the Titans enter the 2017 state tournament with their first top seed after winning their first region title and with several girls playing in their first season of high school soccer.
“We have some really talented youngsters on this squad,” Syracuse coach Taylor Allen said. “These young girls have bought in and they believe in Syracuse soccer. I remember we had a conversation in the spring and they told me that they wanted the high school experience — they wanted to win state titles.”
In a sport where talented underclassmen have been basking in the limelight for the past several years, Syracuse’s young core burst onto the high school soccer scene with a barrage of offense that has skyrocketed the once decrepit program into contender status in Class 6A.
The unknown star of the Titans has been freshman forward Caroline Stringfellow, who has racked up school records in single-season goals (21) and career assists (25) in her rookie season.
“I was really excited to come to high school and play at this level,” Stringfellow said. “I was never really intimidated coming in because I had just gotten back from playing in nationals at the club level. I just came in and gave it my all, and now the team is where we’re at.”
Stringfellow’s numbers have been supplemented by another young star in sophomore Ashlyn Hall, who has 16 goals and 15 assists to her name, while another freshman, Sarah Wynn, rounds out the top producers with 12 goals and 10 assists.
Like many of the young players on the Syracuse roster, Wynn has been watching the program since the early years when wins were few and far between. After going winless in their inaugural season in 2007, the Titans never were able to manage more than eight wins in a season until 2015, when they earned a playoff berth with a 10-6-1 record.
“The older girls on the team have been telling us about when they were freshmen and sophomores,” Wynn said. “The team was completely different then and it’s been fun to be a part of the change. We followed the program as younger kids and now to be region champions is really cool.”
Allen, who took over as coach last season, knew that he was going to start receiving some of the rising talent coming out of the hotbed that is club soccer in northern Utah. He just didn’t realize that the impact of that talent would be so immediate.
“We live in a soccer community,” Allen said. “Syracuse fits the mold of some of the other areas where successful soccer programs reside. “The club system in Utah is very strong, and they deserve a lot of credit for developing these girls and getting them ready to play at a high level when they get to high school.”
After watching his girls play well through the preseason then begin to mow down competition early in the region schedule, Allen began to get serious about expectations with his squad.
“We were pretty careful about talking about titles and championships early on,” he said. “As a program, we were pretty bad early on and now we’re breaking record after record every game.
“After the loss to Layton midway through the season, we just had an honest talk as a team and said, ‘We want to win a region title. We want to win a state title’. The level of intensity just amplified after that.”
The intensity now needs another bump as Allen and his squad prepare for their first home playoff game in program history. The Titans never have made it out of the first round while being outscored 14-1 in three playoff appearances before this season.
“We’re not going to be scared to play in those tough games and give it our all,” Stringfellow said. “We’re used to those games. We just played in the club nationals over the summer and played against girls that were bigger and tougher.”
But size and skill won’t be the only things the Titans must overcome to reach the latter stages of the tournament. They also lack experience and knowledge of what it takes to win in the playoffs.
“We’ve never been in this position before,” Wynn said. “It’s going to be something new, and we’re fresh to it. But in the future, we’re hoping that we’re going to be able to prepare the younger girls for these kinds of situations.”
Yet despite their naiveté, there’s no doubt that the Titans are confident heading into their playoff opener Tuesday afternoon against West Jordan. If nothing else, that’s what Allen wants from his players.
“I’m a big believer of confidence with this team,” Allen said. “If I can instill confidence in these girls before that game, then I believe they’ll meet that level and achieve something new.”
GIRLS’ SOCCER STATE TOURNAMENT PREVIEW
Class 6A • There’s a good chance that the state’s largest classification will have a new champion for the first time since 2014. While three-time defending champion Davis did qualify for the tournament, the likes of American Fork, Copper Hills, Pleasant Grove and Herriman look to be the true contenders. But be on the lookout for top-seeded Syracuse, whose young group of attackers will be looking to make names for themselves at the state level.
Class 5A • Each top seed from regions 5 through 8 are capable of winning it all this year. Corner Canyon will be the odds-on favorite after steamrolling through a highly competitive Region 7, but Skyline will have something to say about that before the tournament is over. Woods Cross and Timpanogos round out the upper echelon of contending teams, but don’t sleep on Timpview or Brighton, who both have the talent to pull off upsets in the early rounds.
Class 4A • A few teams from 4A are getting hot at the right time as top seeds Spanish Fork and Sky View enter the state tournament with lengthy winning streaks. They’ll have to knock off Bonneville, which has been tested week in and week out in a competitive Region 5 while also watching out for the ever-dangerous southern teams such as Snow Canyon and Dixie. If you like sleepers, watch out for Ogden, which will be a very dangerous opponent for any upper-seeded team to face.
Class 3A • After a less-than-stellar start against stiff competition early in the season, Region 13 champion Morgan looks like an unstoppable force heading into the tournament. Delta is another contender out of Region 14 after keeping a talented Juab team at bay, while Manti went undefeated in Region 15. It’s going to be tough to upend the top seeds in 3A, but look for Judge Memorial, Juab or Emery to play spoiler and send a contender home.
Class 2A • As has been the case for nearly the entire history of 2A, Rowland Hall and Waterford will be the favorites to meet in the state title match. Waterford was able to claim the crown last season, but Rowland Hall will be favored to take it away this season. The Winged Lions have been unstoppable throughout the year. While unlikely, southern teams such as Parowan, Millard and Beaver could pull a shocker in the tournament.