Depth and talent was on display last season in 4A District 6, which ended with the Hillcrest boys and Skyline girls claiming district titles.
Hillcrest graduated nine while Skyline graduated five, and both head coaches and current seniors anticipate another highly competitive district.
Post Register All-Area Player of the Year Balor Reilly (17 goals) and midfielder/defender Caleb Spiers were among the graduates from the 2018 Knights who went 16-2-3, won a third consecutive district title and placed second in the 4A state tournament for their second state trophy in as many years. Hillcrest was in a similar situation a year ago, however, after graduating 12 seniors from its 2017 team. Goalkeeper Tyler Stauffer and center midfielder Jaxon Keller, two of 10 seniors this year, said Hillcrest's success the last three years starts with JV players learning from upperclassmen, staying the course and stepping up upon making varsity.
"The seniors this year have been playing together since Sandcreek (Middle School)," Keller said. "Some of our group have been playing together since we were 10. We've got a lot of chemistry."
Among the graduates from Skyline's 15-4-0 team which reached the state third place game last year for the first time in 12 years were forward Berenice Chavez, who scored 32 goals last fall, and four-year varsity starter Sydnie Clark, dubbed one of the area's best defenders. The Grizzlies return 12 varsity players, including six seniors who said the class of 2019 taught them a lot.
"Sydnie Clark pushed herself to be the best she could be," said senior center midfielder Brooklyn Morgan. "She was so confident."
"We really relied a lot on Berenice last season," added senior center midfielder Emily Stuart. "Now we have to count on other people to score."
The Knights and Grizzlies both acknowledged the attention that comes with being defending district champions. Stauffer and Keller said several of the Knights spent the summer on a local club team called Ethos alongside Idaho Falls High School players who were not shy about wanting to beat Hillcrest. Blackfoot coach Liam Pope also pinned Hillcrest as the 4A District 6 favorite. Knights head coach Ryan Ellis said his biggest priority is taking the season game by game and preparing for districts.
"I tell the boys every year, some really good teams have more talented individuals than us, but if we play as a team, we can beat anyone," Ellis said.
Last year's district title was Skyline's first in 4A, and first at all since 2014. The Grizz seniors said they are aware of the targets on their backs and cannot overlook any opponent.
"We have to go in as underdogs," senior defender Corbyn Stosich said.
"We can’t go in overconfident," Stuart said. "We do have everything to lose."
While regular season games are the first order of business for the Knights and Grizz, they are aiming to return to state. The Knights made a program-first title game appearance last year, an experience Keller and Stauffer remember vividly.
"This year, we want to win it all," Stauffer said.
Last season marked the first opening round win at state since 2006 for Skyline, which has yet to win a girls soccer state trophy. Ending the winner's bracket drought was not only a milestone for the program, but it instilled a fire in this year's Grizzlies.
"State is so fun," Skyline head coach Kip Archibald said. "It was so much fun to watch these guys play in the winner's bracket. It was just a great experience."
"We always want to do better than we did the year before," Stuart added. "I feel like we’re coming into this year more motivated to go farther at state."
Players to watch
Frankie Garcia, Blackfoot jr. forward: A varsity starter since his freshman season, Garcia is again expected to be a major contributor for the Broncos.
Jordan Dayley, Sugar-Salem sr. forward: Dayley had 20 goals and seven assists as a junior for the 3A District 6 champion Diggers.
Tyler Stauffer, Hillcrest sr. keeper: Stauffer returns between the pipes after coming up with big save after big save for the Knights at last year's 4A state tournament.
Jameson Lee, Idaho Falls sr. striker: One of I.F.'s top goal scorers last season, Lee is now a captain and one of 16 seniors for the Tigers this fall.
Jesus Lopez, Thunder Ridge sr. midfielder: The center mid was among Thunder Ridge's top scorers last season and is one of six seniors for the defending 5A District 5-6 champion Titans.
Annalise Brunson, Madison sr. forward: The Utah Valley commit scored a District 6 best 48 goals and had 22 assists last fall and enters her senior season with 98 career goals and 42 assists.
Sydney Monk, Hillcrest sr. defender: Monk was of the area's top defenders last season and could be moving more around the field this fall, per Hillcrest coach Danielle Francis.
Morgan Teichert, Sugar-Salem, sr. forward: Sugar-Salem's leading scorer last season and the reigning 3A District 6 player of the year is back for a Diggers team which graduated one from last year's 3A state runner-up team.
Emily Stuart, Skyline sr. midfielder: The center midfielder is a returning 5A/4A High Country Conference first teamer and one of six seniors for the defending 4A District 6 champion Grizz.
Alissa Andrus, Bonneville sr. defender: Andrus helped hold down the back line and also scored last year for the Bees, who went 11-7-3 for their best season in 17 years.