Since before the first day of practice in the 2019 season, the Worland boys soccer team knew it would have a target on its back. A defending state champion typically gets that treatment, especially when it returns all the vital components the Warriors did.
Despite expectations, the only ask head coach Ron Overcast had of his players was that they get 1 percent better every day in practice. Some days they did, and sometimes the Warriors showed the championship DNA woven into their fabric.
“Some days it wasn’t even 1 percent,” junior goalkeeper Konnor Macy said. “Some days it was 2 percent or 3 percent, or even 10 percent sometimes.
“We just kept our heads down, worked hard and stayed focused on our goal at the end of the season.”
Worland marched through every obstacle for two months, and last weekend at Jackson’s William T. McIntosh Stadium they completed their bid for a repeat with a 2-0 victory over Powell that also minted an undefeated season.
That path included starting the season at the annual Pinnacle Cup that the Warriors hosted. In that tournament the Warriors ran through four opponents by a combined 19-3. Lopsided results didn’t change the mentality for the defending champions, who knew how much more difficult the road ahead would become.
“We knew that everybody wanted to get at us,” senior Rylan Mocko recapped after championship match. “Every time we played a game they would give it their best. My boys stuck with it and we grinded every day. We came out here and did what we were supposed to do, and it feels amazing.”
They always had that end goal of completing the repeat. Macy, Mocko and the vast majority of the Warriors experienced the euphoria of hoisting the championship last season. None of them wanted to be known as the team that couldn’t live up to its goals and, more importantly, not one player wanted to let down his teammates.
Macy pitched 14 clean sheets out of 18 matches, Mocko tallied the second-most goals in 3A with 13 and tied the class lead in assists with 10 going into the state tournament, senior Luke Mortimer and freshman Cole Venable each added six goals, and the Warriors’ goal differential of plus-50 in the regular season cast a major shadow upon the competition.
Two of those victories came over Powell, who the Warriors defeated in separate 1-0 and 3-0 matches before going into the state championship. From that history alone the Warriors knew it wouldn’t be easy. Add in the emotions of the state championship, which was Powell’s first appearance in program history, and the match took on an even bigger persona.
“We knew that the first 20 minutes Powell was going to come out and give it their all; they always do when they play us,” Mocko said. “So we knew that the first 20, 30 minutes was going to be a hard battle, but when we got that first goal we felt that momentum switch and from there we kept playing our game.”
Andrew Edholm’s goal in the 29th minute broke open a back-and-forth match and gave the defending champions breathing room of the slimmest margin. Facing the pressure of a potentially quick response, Worland moved a step ahead of its challenger that day. The Warriors kicked into a reserve gear that many champions have been able to tap into.
“It was really physical,” Macy said, “Danny (Weyrich) working hard for us in the midfield, Rylan and Rudy (Sanford) were working hard out in the wings, Luke was putting pressure on the back line. That’s what it takes; you’ve just got to stay mentally focused.”
Mortimer added his insurance goal early in the second half, shortly before his left hand ballooned with the swelling of a possible broken bone. After the match he shrugged it off, saying he just needed to fight through it.
The Warriors were well aware of the stigmas in a 2-0 lead and that a half-hour of match play remained, so they stayed focused on the prize. Pleas for another goal subsided going into the game’s final stretch, and the Warriors emboldened their defense in order to pitch their seventh consecutive shutout. And they were able to do it by pushing for that extra 1 percent two months prior.
“Once we got down to the last 15 minutes or so they started slowing down and they were getting tired, sore,” Macy said. “At the end of practice, with conditioning, that’s when you keep pushing. It’s about who wants it more and we always say that we want it more. That’s why we do an extra rep in drills, practice and conditioning. We let them know we want it more.”