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DRAPER — Nicole Ray wasn’t supposed to be there.
A center midfielder for Lone Peak’s girls soccer team all year, the Knights went into Tuesday’s Class 6A state semifinal a marked underdog against returning state finalist Syracuse.
What’s more, Ray was moved quickly to center forward, as head coach Shantel Jolley tried to use the junior’s speed to open up the flanks and spark the Knights’ offense.
The offensive spark, though, would come from Ray in a moment of brilliance — and that was all that Lone Peak need.
Nicole Ray scored the gamewinniner in the 35th minute, and Mckayla Wetsel earned the shutout in goal to help Lone Peak to a 1-0 win over Syracuse at Juan Diego.
“When (coach Jolley) put me up top, I was surprised,” Ray said. “But I got up there, they kept playing me balls, and I kept getting confidence.”
The Knights (15-3) will face the winner of Davis and Layton at 4:30 p.m. MT Friday at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Then Ray saw her cousin Ellie Durfey on the ball, put her hand up to call for a pass — and calmly slotted home the gamewinner that trickled inside the far post.
“My heart stopped,” Ray said. “That was a good moment.”
After holding the fort through Syracuse’s pressure for nearly a half-hour, Lone Peak’s Ellie Norton broke through for a golden chance in the 31st minute that Syracuse goalkeeper Brooklyn Stringfellow pushed wide with an on-rushing challenge.
The score was deadlocked, but the script was flipped against the reigning state finalists.
“Syracuse was here last year, and they had quite a bit more experience than my girls,” Jolley said. “I think we came out too nervous. But once we got those out, I knew they could play.”
Lone Peak put several more chances on goal in the final moments of the half, but the Titan defense did well to get into the break down a goal.
Even in the second half, Syracuse (17-2) had the better spell of possession, and several chances.
But Lone Peak was up to the challenge.
“We’ve heard everything about how good Caroline (Stringfellow) is,” Jolley said. “But I don’t think Syracuse has seen a back line as good as ours is. I think we’ve been solid, and I had no doubt that my back line could handle it.”
Adriana Owen nearly forced overtime with just under two minutes remaining. The senior forward took a pass from Syracuse star Caroline Stringfellow on the counter, but Wetsel charged out, dived to her right and kept the shutout to send the Knights to the title match.
“It’s been a long time, and I think this year was shocking for us,” Ray said. “But with how far we’ve come, it’s been a really great season. We’ve never won a state championship, and I think we have a drive (Friday).
“We’re going to have a heck of a game.”
35’ LP: Nicole Ray (Ellie Durfey)
SO: Mckayla Wetsel