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South Salt Lake Journal

Thirteen seniors made this season memorable for Cottonwood boys soccer

Jun 06, 2023 11:14AM ● By Brian Shaw

Oscar Serrano-Hernandez takes a free kick as one of the 13 seniors on the team. (City Journals)

Cottonwood [6-9] boys soccer had quite a story to tell this season, but it was a story with an inspirational ending. To start with, they had 13 Colts who saw the first year of their high school careers canceled by COVID. 

When Cottonwood head coach Brylee Harvest stood along the sidelines as an assistant to Dominic Militello, life was tough for these young Colts, he said. 

“It was definitely hard to deal with the growing pains as we had six sophomores in the starting lineup, but they played an instrumental part in our only win that season [at East], breaking a two-year overall winless streak,” Harvest said. 

During their junior year, the Colts honored their 2020 seniors by going 6-2 at home and having the last game ever in those jerseys end with a comeback overtime state playoff win against Timpview. 

Harvest admitted that this season, he and the 13 boys-turned-men were disappointed with how the season turned out. 

“We had six straight cancellations with the prolonged winter weather and found ourselves with the least amount of Region 7 games played by the halfway point [in April] compared to our counterparts,” said Harvest of his Colts that couldn’t catch a break—either from the injuries that forced many different lineups or the wet weather. 

Life lessons 

In these seniors’ final chapter, the Colts had just fallen at Timpanogos in the 5A first-round 4-0, hours after battling to a 0-0 stalemate at halftime.  

It read like something from a Greek tragedy—except there were 13 faces from eight different countries who stood on the field. Some sat on the sidelines due to injuries they’d just aggravated.  

They were Arefa Salih. Guido Rocha. Diego Balza-Lopez. Ashis Tamang. Yusuf Hussein. Jairo Licona-Vera. Ulises Alvarado-Morales. Oscar Serrano-Hernandez. Vesal Azmayandeh. Riyan Bakrim. Ben Barrowes. Talmage Winward. Josh Stettler. 

They had just played nine games in three weeks, getting a three-day breather—but only between the conclusion of the regular season and the beginning of the state tournament. It was hardly enough recovery time for the Colts, let alone any other school, but it was the unthinkably bad card they were dealt. 

The second-year head coach was proud of his kids regardless of this season’s outcome; you could feel it in the words that he was using though you could tell it stung. 

“Some of them came to the U.S. as refugees and didn’t speak a single word of English,” said Harvest, whose Cottonwood team was inexplicably seeded No. 24 and had to travel to Timpanogos for a 5A first-round game. “These kids easily could’ve transferred to more established schools/programs in the area like many kids these days do and especially many in our boundaries do, but that’s just not in their DNA.

“They wanted to break a paradigm and prove that good things can indeed come from Cottonwood and they did that. These seniors earned everything in their time here and had fun with each other while doing it. I saw these 13 seniors grow most as people during this season than any other season in our time together. Sometimes people can get caught up so much with the destination that they forget the journey. I will never forget how far this group has come and look forward to how much further they will go. It’s been one of the most humbling experiences in my life to get the privilege to coach these kids.”

 Looking back 

There is of course a silver lining to the fact that the Colts had to jam half of their season into two weeks of play and thus forced their players into a slew of unnecessary injuries. 

The Utah High School Athletics and Activities Association only gives out 24 spots in Class 5A—Cottonwood got the last spot. 

How or why the Colts got the last No. 24 spot and a guaranteed extra state tournament game after tying No. 4 seed Hillcrest 2-2 and narrowly losing to their crosstown rival 1-0 in the other contest, is just as baffling to Harvest as it was to Athletic Director Greg Southwick, who lobbied for all Utah schools to be included in this spring’s state tournaments due to the unique weather issues all had encountered. 

The insistence of the UHSAA to stay the course jammed another unnecessary game into an already congested schedule for Cottonwood, who after four games in one week in late April turned around and played another four the first eight days of May. 

“While it may not have been the ending I would’ve liked for this 2023 senior class, what a ride that was and this is a class that will be remembered at Cottonwood for a very long time,” Harvest said. “Fifteen regular season wins, two playoff wins, broke a two year overall winless streak, broke a four year winless streak at home, six seniors received college scholarship offers, and countless future Colts got inspired from this 2023 class over the years. I’m so excited to see what they will do beyond high school and thank them from the bottom of my heart for their impact that they have had on this program.”

Looking back, the coach said one particular moment, the rematch against Cedar Valley at home on April 21, sticks out most.  

“I really like to look at it as a turning point in our season,” said Harvest, who was the first to admit that his team got a bit complacent at times this season after last year’s success. “The first time we played, we lost 4-0 to them and really took several steps backwards in multiple areas. We had a lot of starters injured heading into that rematch at home forcing us to play a lot of players out of position. 

“It was pouring rain that day and we were just about to head into halftime deadlocked but we gave this really stupid goal away with 30 seconds left. I was hard on them in the locker room and got on them for their poor body language and mournful demeanor when it was only 1-0. In the second half, Cedar Valley did not break our half of the field and we scored two goals in the last 15 minutes of the game to get our first come-from-behind win of the season. From that point on, I saw more of that fighting spirit that allowed us to be competitive in every game.” λ