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PROVO – For a moment, Haven Empey felt like she was back in high school. In an alternate universe, perhaps the 5-foot-9 goalkeeper from American Fork would’ve been celebrating the end of her senior year, with prom, yearbook signings and commencement exercises.
Ignoring the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic canceled all of those things for most seniors in the Class of 2020, Empey also wasn’t on campus during the last half of her senior year. You see, after she helped the Cavemen win the Class 6A girls soccer state championship, Empey graduated early and enrolled at BYU to get a jump on spring practices and prepare to join the perennial power Cougars in the fall.
And then, last week, she was reminded that she should’ve been in high school, when she was named the Gatorade Utah girls soccer player of the year for the 2019-20 school year.
“It’s definitely kind of unorthodox,” Empey admitted. “But it was always something I kept in the back of my mind. Growing up, I knew I wanted to play collegiate soccer, and I was ready to do whatever would get me there.”
At BYU, Empey will be reunited with her older brother James, last year’s starting center on the football team, and sister Savannah, a fellow BYU goalkeeper who recently returned from an 18-month mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
That last one goes deep for Haven Empey, the youngest in a line of goalkeepers that goes back to her oldest sister Makenzie.
“Ever since I could put on cleats, I wanted to be in goal,” Haven Empey said. “When you have a whole family of goalies, you get to train a lot.”
Congrats to our own Haven Empey @EmpeyHaven for being named @Gatorade Utah Girls Soccer Player Of The Year! No one is more deserving! We are so proud of you! @afhsevents 📷@byjesspic.twitter.com/CDYcsNvQbI— ⚽️AFHS Girls Soccer (@AFGirlsSoccer) June 19, 2020
A two-time 6A state champion, Empey marshaled American Fork’s defense to an 18-2 record, allowing just 13 goals with seven shutouts. She didn’t allow a single goal in the state quarterfinals, semifinals or championship match, and ended her four-year Caveman career with 53 wins and 26 shutouts.
A top-200 player nationally by Top Drawer Soccer, Empey also graduated early with a 4.0 GPA.
And accepting the award last week brought back all those memories.
“It was a little bit of nostalgia,” she said. “I just remembered my senior year, and how much I loved it. But the biggest thing about the award was how awesome my team was. I don’t think I would be where I am without my teammates and a village of people.
“It’s a ride through four years of high school, and you get better every year because of the people around you. It definitely took me back to the good old times. I would relive it over and over again, if I could.”
During the pandemic, Empey moved back home to American Fork, where she’s been reunited with Savanna. Her parents are in California, where her dad — former BYU offensive line coach Mike Empey — recently accepted a new job offer. But the Empey girls stayed in Utah County, for obvious reasons.
After all, what’s better than quarantining with a training partner?
“I love my sister. It has been a blast to play with her,” Haven Empey said of her older sister who will also become a teammate and competitor for playing time this fall. “The biggest thing is that we’ve been able to have each other’s back. I’m here biggest fan, and she’s mine. We have a really positive dynamic now to help us be the best that we can be. That’s all you can ask for in any college sport.”
Here’s a look at the rest of the Gatorade Utah players of the year for the spring 2020 season. Woods Cross' Carlee Hansen was named girls track and field athlete of the year Thursday morning.
Baseball: Cooper Vest, LHP, Dixie
A left-handed pitcher from Dixie, Vest led the Flyers to three-straight Class 4A state championships.
The 5-foot-11 BYU signee who graduated with a 3.58 GPA was off to a 2-0 start, with just one hit allowed in 11 innings before the season was cancelled due to the pandemic.
Vest is the eighth-straight BYU baseball signee to earn Gatorade Utah player of the year honors.
"Coop committed to us while he was playing on the U14 USA Baseball team," BYU baseball coach Mike Littlewood said when the Cougars announced his signing in February. "He's a proven gamer and a true competitor. I expect him to make an immediate impact for us as a position player and a pitcher."
Softball: Makaiya Gomez, OF, Copper Hills
One of the most consistent hitters in the state during her career at Copper Hills, Gomez had the Grizzlies off to a 5-2 start, hitting .632 with 10 runs, 11 RBI and two homers before her senior season was cancelled.
The University of Utah signee hit .704 with a 1.254 slugging averaged in 2019. Gomez graduated with a 3.74 GPA.
"Makaiya is a once-in-a-lifetime player for any high school coach," said Copper Hills coach John Flores in a news release. "She is one of the most inspiring, humble, confident and unselfish kids I have ever coached."
Boys soccer: Eli Nixon, F, Layton
The Utah Youth Soccer Association male athlete of the year, Nixon had 13 goals and four assists in leading the Lancers to a 13-4-1 record and the Class 6A state quarterfinals en route to first team all-state honors in 2019.
The Utah Valley signee finished his career with 24 goals, and a 3.54 GPA in the classroom.
"Eli has all of the characteristics necessary to be a very successful striker at the collegiate level," said UVU head coach Greg Maas when Nixon signed in November. "He's technically sound, has an exceptional change of pace, is explosive, and is a finisher."
Girls track and field: Carlee Hansen, middle distance, Woods Cross
A junior for the Wildcats, the 5-foot-2 Hansen took New Balance All-American honors in the 1,600-meter run during the 2020 indoor season. Her personal best time of 4 minutes, 54.29 seconds ranked No. 11 in the nation among all prep competitors.
Hansen’s finished second in June’s Desert Dream-Last Hurray Invitational during the abbreviated spring season, clocking a time of 4:49.05 for the second-best mark in the country at the time.
A member of her school’s HOSA chapter with a 4.0 GPA, Hansen volunteers locally through several community service initiatives and her church youth group.
“Carlee is a fierce competitor who maintains very high expectations for herself,” said Woods Cross track and field coach Zach Hansen in a news release. “She is always willing to attack challenges head-on, and never succumbs to pressure.”