Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
SANDY — There's a mark on Whitney Garn's knee, evidence of the 12 stitches the Riverton senior midfielder had to get earlier this week following an injury.
Her doctor told her she probably shouldn't play in Friday's 6A state championship.
"I'm really glad she disregarded that advice," Riverton coach Paul Mozier said.
He's not alone.
With just over four minutes remaining, Garn sent a ball to the right of a diving Skyridge keeper to seal the Silverwolves' first-ever state title with a 3-1 victory Friday at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"It was almost a sigh of relief," Garn said. "We were playing super, super frantic. After that I feel like it just released the pressure, and we were able to finally play like how we played in the first half, but it was a really surreal feeling."
In that first half, Riverton looked like it was going to coast to the title. Just three minutes into the game, Mari Regla put the Silverwolves up with a well-taken penalty. The state title match comes with obvious added nerves; looking up at the scoreboard to see 1-0 helped ease those.
With the help of the early goal, Riverton played with calmness and confidence, controlling the ball for much of the half. And in the 24th minute, the Silverwolves added to their advantage.
Garn dribbled the ball past midfield with space all around her. As the Skyridge defense closed in, she spotted Belle Christensen making a run down the right side. Garn sent a long through ball into the penalty box and Christensen outraced her marker to get to the ball first, and then buried it in the back of the net to give Riverton a 2-0 lead.
But things didn't come so easy for the Silverwolves in the second 40-minute period.
Skyridge senior captain Emily Auman headed in a cross from Kylie Olsen just eight minutes into the second half, and suddenly the pressure was back on Riverton, especially since the Hawks didn't let up and sent run after run into the box to try and find the equalizer. More than once, Skyridge appeared to have beat the keeper, but the ball didn't get past the line.
"I mean our backline is like a brick wall; like, there's no beating our defense," Garn said. "I think we were really frantic and under a lot of pressure, but, I mean, this is what we trained for for months."
On multiple occasions, the Hawks' backline was able to clear the ball to safety, and Skyridge had a shot on goal that rolled past the keeper but just outside the post.
"They stayed in their spots and we just tried to defend the best we could," Mozier said. "Skyridge was amazing in the second half. They threw everything at us, and it was just hanging on at the end there."
Hanging on, at least, until Garn got a pass in the box and, even with her stitched-up knee, was able to send a sigh of relief through the Riverton side.
The Silverwolves knew what that final goal meant: They were about to be champions.
"I have 15 seniors, and they absolutely believe in themselves," Mozier said. "They believe in each other. It's the closest group of seniors I've ever had. It doesn't matter who's starting, who's scoring, who's doing whatever; they just support each other, and it just really works out nicely."