The Lady Knights

The Lady Knights finished the season 18-2-2 en route to a fourth straight postseason appearance, according to Maxpreps.com, before losing 3-2 in the quarterfinals round. (Photo courtesy Christine Johnson)

“Heartbreaking” is how head coach Don Radford described it.

It was a 3-2 loss at home to five-seed Anthem Prep that jettisoned the four-seed Trivium Preparatory Academy’s Lady Knights out of the running for the program’s first girls’ soccer state championship.

“Just heartbreaking,” he said.

The stunning defeat in the quarterfinals round of the 3A state tournament marked their first home loss since January 2016. But it also slammed the door on a prolific era of Lady Knights soccer, one that Radford believed was primed for a state title.

“Our best chance (to win a title) just went past us,” Radford said. “One of the seniors said at the end of that last game, it’s the end of an era.

“And I would have to agree.”

The Lady Knights were powered this season by an incredibly tight-knit group of seven seniors who have been playing together for seven years now.

The seniors – Paula Rosztoczy, Macyn Willingham, Kenna Roderick, Jewell Lopez, Maddy Schleifer, Vivi Heppner and Tori Gutierrez – were the architects behind four consecutive postseason appearances, including one semi-final appearance and one run to the state championship game in 2017.

But against Anthem Prep, who Trivium Prep beat 5-0 in January, they could not prolong its magical run.

In the quarterfinals matchup, the Lady Knights were wronged in the opening minutes of the second half when a go-ahead goal by junior Samantha Johnson was reversed.

“It was a cross right to the far post and she outleaped the goalkeeper and put it in on a header. I think when the ref looked up, he didn’t realize that Samantha was probably two or three steps onside when the ball was kicked,” Radford said.

The referee ruled Johnson was offside, but Radford was confident that “she was way, way onside when the ball was kicked.

“That took a lot of wind out of our sails because that would’ve given us the lead,” he said. “Instead, the other team went down and scored and got the lead.”

While the Lady Knights are still lamenting their playoff defeat, the consensus around campus is this group of seniors will leave a long-lasting impression that will measure far beyond what transpired on the soccer field.

“I hope that people look at us and our team and admire the chemistry we have and realize the key to a great team is not always the skill or experience, but the friendships that have been made,” Heppner said.

“This group of seniors, they were a solid, phenomenal set of athletes and role models,” Radford said. “They are the face of athletics at Trivium across all sports.”

Not only did they deliver on the soccer field, but four of them also helped the volleyball team reach the semifinals of the 2A state tournament this fall.

Each season, Trivium Prep has had a “theme” of the season. This year’s theme was “All In,” a testament to the Lady Knights’ unwavering commitment to make this an unforgettable final episode together.

“Knowing that it was going to be the end of an era, we were going to do everything we could do to go as far as we could. We were going to leave no stone unturned,” Radford said.

This contingent of Lady Knights has been together for so long – yearned for a state title for so long – that it does indeed hit harder now that the chapter is coming to a close.

After the 3-2 loss in the tournament, the girls were on the field crying and consoling one another for roughly “30 minutes,” one parent said.

But let it be known, this group of seniors laid the groundwork for the future of Trivium Prep girls’ soccer. For one, they plopped Trivium Prep, a school that had just 600 enrolled students in 2017, on the map in the 3A conference.

Gutierrez, the team’s star senior goalkeeper, also became the school’s first girls’ soccer player to further her playing career at a Division I university when she committed to Boise State University last year.

And despite the roster shakeup that will ensue next year, the Lady Knights will return Johnson, who led the team with an astounding 31 goals, and the nine freshmen who graced the varsity roster this winter.

This is also the first year they’ve had a junior varsity program. It’s an opportunity for players to grow and develop before reaching the varsity level.

“I’ve always believed, in order to sustain strength, you have to have a JV program, you have to have kids excited about soccer,” Radford said. “And getting that JV program was huge; working with those freshmen was huge.”

Radford’s off-season began quicker than he would have liked, but he’s already started to peek ahead to next winter.

He chalked the next year or two up as “rebuilding years,” given the team’s sudden youth movement.

“I’m kind of excited to see how far we can go next year. I never thought a whole lot about that but in the last 24 hours or so, I’ve been going into, ‘What’s next?’ I started getting excited because the freshmen did come very far,” he said.

“Now we go back to the drawing board and we rebuild and see what we have.”