Alta forges its own identity amidst quest for third straight titleApr 22, 2019 03:31PM ● By Ron Bevan
Senior forward Kenny Kocherscheidt battles through the defense in a recent Alta boys soccer game. Kocherscheidt is one of the leading scorers on this year's team. (Ron Bevan/City Journals)
By Ron Bevan | [email protected]
The start of the soccer season proved to be a bit rough for the Alta Hawks boys team. The thoughts of a third straight state title, once in the back of the returning players’ minds, had almost become a pipe dream.
Now, the dream is still alive. The two-time defending state champion Hawks have knocked down opponents in a convincing manner. They are making a case once again to fear the red and black of Alta on the soccer pitch.
“There is a lot of pressure because winning one state championship in its own right is a hard thing to do,” Alta coach MacKenzie Hyer said. “So being back-to-back champions and then trying to go for that third is history-making in Utah. I mean, it is pretty cool and there is a lot of pressure, and that pressure affected us at the beginning of the season. That’s where we got the tie and the loss.”
Alta came into the season heavily favored to win its third straight title and eighth overall in the 5A ranks. Returning 14 seniors, including last year’s goalkeeper and three main scoring threats, gave the Hawks a lot of respect around the state.
But with respect comes pressure. The Alta players knew the legacy at their school in soccer. They knew everyone was gunning for them. No matter who their opponents faced throughout the year, they all had Alta earmarked as the key contest of the season.
The pressure seemed to wilt the Hawks at the beginning of the season, and the Hawks found themselves losing in the St. George tournament to Desert Hills before tying Dixie. Alta was holding a 1-1-1 record, but was outscored by its opponents 2-1 through the first three games.
“A lot of focus comes when you win a championship, but when you win two, there is just that much more,” Alta forward Christian Simmons said.
So the team held a meeting and discussed the past, present and future.
“The loss and tie was actually good for us, because we sat down and was able to really talk about it,” Hyer said. “We talked about the pressure and where it is coming from and the boys were able to really work through it. They were able to push through the adversity, so I will take those early dings in order to push through.”
Another piece that could have proved disastrous was a change in coaching at Alta. This is the first year Lee Mitchell hasn’t been at the helm of an Alta soccer team, retiring shortly after last year’s state championship game and handing the reins off to Hyer. While a change of coaching at any time can be hard on a team, it could have been especially tough for Alta, losing the only coach the school ever had.
But the players responded well to Hyer. The team affectionately calls her “Kenz,” an abbreviation of her first name, instead of Coach.
“Coaching is a definite change,” Midfielder Ethan Bell said. “You get used to the way one person coaches and Coach Mitchell is not just a coach but someone I looked up to. But Kenz is doing an amazing job. She is making us all feel the same brotherhood we had with Mitchell.”
Hyer comes to the team with a lot of credentials, having played for Mitchell at Alta when she was younger and then being Mitchell’s assistant for the past 17 years.
“I think it was important to the kids for a smooth transition that I was in the school already and not an outsider,” Hyer said. “I know the Alta program and I didn’t change things from what they were under Mitchell, but I am still making it my own.”
Hyer helped the team understand the tradition at Alta while at the same time teaching them that they have their own story to write.
“The team knows they don’t have to be the teams of the past,” Hyer said. “It is good that we have that tradition and it is nice to know, but we don’t have to be the team that won last year. We are our own team. We are writing our own chapter in the Alta soccer family history. I told them to be who we are. That took off a lot of pressure. They don’t have to live up to someone else’s expectations. They just have to be themselves.”
And since then, Alta has put together a string of six straight wins as of press time. The Hawks have pasted their opponents with 22 goals while only giving up six. Nearly two-thirds of those goals have come from Simmons (6) and returning striker Kenny Kocherscheidt (7). Returning goalkeeper Traven England has shut out three opponents.
“We are out there to prove every game that we belong where we are and that we hold the standard that we know we have,” Simmons said. “At the beginning of the season we were trying to find that out and finally we struck our groove. Now we just need to keep the same focus throughout the rest of the season.”
“We expect a lot out of ourselves, “ Bell said. “We aren’t looking at what other people are thinking. We are just here to prove that we can be our team. It’s not about anyone else but the 11 on the field proving that we belong here.”