Every year the Deseret News picks one player from every classification as an MVP. As is often, if not always the case, these athletes possess those traits necessary for success, a list of which could go on forever.
The 2017 batch of MVP’s were and are truly gifted soccer players, blessed with both talent and an indomitable will for greatness. It is their individual journeys to the top, however, that truly sets them apart.
Caroline Stringfellow, Syracuse
Syracuse High School's Caroline Stringfellow heads the ball against American Fork High School at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Friday, Oct. 20, 2017. | Adam Fondren, Deseret News
It is easy to see why Caroline Stringfellow was chosen as 6A MVP. The freshman dynamo was incredible this season, netting a team-high, not to mention classification-best (tied with Copper Hills forward Nikki Oliver) 29 goals. The midfielder didn’t stop there, however, assisting on 32 additional Titan scores.
“She’s a game-changer,” said Syracuse head coach Taylor Allen. “Her technical skills are incredible, as is her vision.”
For Allen, Stringfellow’s impact was much more than goals and assists. It was program-altering.
“Syracuse was notoriously one of the worst programs in the state, said Allen. “We slowly began to build things up, but when Caroline came in, she took it to an elite level. She has changed the level here.”
With Stringfellow in the middle, Syracuse went from a seven-win team that was knocked out in the opening round of the playoffs, to a 17-win team that advanced as far as the state championship game.
In her very first game sporting the navy blue and forest green, Stringfellow set a school-record with five assists, which just happened to be tied for the sixth-most in a game in state history.
And that was only the beginning.
In an early-season contest against the Clearfield Falcons, she netted five goals and dished out three assists, all in the course of a single half.
In the Titans 2-1 victory over the reigning champion Davis Darts, Syracuse’s first-ever win over Davis, Stringfellow netted both goals, almost single-handedly.
“She’s raised everyone’s game around her. She led and everyone else ran with her,” said Allen. “(Caroline) wants to be the best. She might be the most competitive person. Getting 6A MVP is an incredible honor as a freshman, but I would say she wanted to be Ms. Soccer. That’s rare to find.”
“The cool part is she’s only a freshman,” Allen added. “I think something really special can happen in the next couple years here.”
Kayla Thompson, Maple Mountain
Maple Mountain keeper Kayla Thompson plays Timpanogos in the 5A girls soccer championship game at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, on Friday, Oct. 20, 2017 | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
“Work today for tomorrow”. That was the Golden Eagles team mantra this season, a mantra chosen by the players themselves, per head coach Jeff Lewis.
No player exemplified that idea more than goalkeeper Kayla Thompson.
The senior manned the goal in each and every Maple Mountain contest this season, never once leaving a game.
That included eight overtime games, and back-to-back penalty shootouts in the semifinals and state championship game.
Thompson was practically unbeatable in the playoffs, saving upwards of 30 shots on goal, not to mention her four penalty kick saves in the aforementioned shootouts.
It was in the semifinal game against East that Thompson was at her very best.
“That was her best game of the year,” said Lewis. “She had 14 saves that game, six or seven of which were very difficult saves during the run of play. Then she goes and blocks three penalty kicks in the shootout.”
“We don’t advance to the finals without Kayla,” Lewis added. “In the first round of penalty kicks we missed two or three shots. If she doesn’t get those saves, East would have won.”
The thing that made Thompson special, however, wasn’t her saves. It was the work she put in to being great.
“(Kayla) is consistently one of the hardest workers,” said Lewis. “If you go back three or four years, she wasn’t nearly the goalie she is today.”
According to Lewis, Thompson decided one day that she wanted to play Division 1 soccer (Thompson is committed to Gonzaga), and that to do so required an inordinate amount of training.
“Kayla was willing to put in the work, regardless of the time of day, regardless of the cost,” said Lewis. “She would do extra goalkeeper sessions on her own each week and still went to all the team sessions.”
Thomson was so committed that she paid for her own training, working two part-time jobs in the offseason.
“She is truly a self-made player,” said Lewis. “The rest of the girls saw the work she put in and wanted to emulate her. Kayla’s work and the effort all the girls put in enabled us to be champions.”
Sky View's Kylee Griffin kicks the ball against Bonneville at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. | Adam Fondren, Deseret News
Kylee Griffin, Sky View
On the surface, Kylee Griffin is a great soccer player and above all else an elite goal scorer.
After all, the Bobcats forward scored 21 goals this season, the second-best mark on the team, all the while racking up 12 assists.
Thanks in part to Griffin, Sky View rolled through any and all 4A competition en route to both a Region 12 title and a state championship.
And yet, according to head coach Sharron Wood, Griffin was so much more.
“She was one of our captains. She was a leader both on and off the field,” said Wood. “She was a mediator and liaison between the coaching staff and the players. If there were any problems or things we needed to communicate to the girls, we would talk to (Kylee).”
Along with that, Griffin was a jill-of-all-trades, willing to do whatever her coaches asked of her.
“Since she has been here, as a freshman, she has played in four different positions, just depending on where we needed her,” said Wood.
Among those positions were holding midfielder, attacking midfielder, outside wing (where she led the team in scoring) and finally forward.
“With the different personnel we had on the field we moved her around,” said Wood.
One constant for Griffin has been her ability to score.
“She just sees where she needs to be,” said Wood. “She is great at heading the ball in, especially on corners. Kylee just knows exactly where to be.”
It isn’t all skill though as Griffin puts in a great deal of effort.
“She works hard. Our forwards are taught you come back to the mix and create options for other people,” said Wood. “It didn’t matter if she was scoring or assisting. She just wanted to be part of the win.”
“She started every game and all of the games she played in she was a part of the win,” Wood added. “She has never made it all about her.”
Logan Duran, Morgan
Morgan High School's Logan Duran takes on Judge Memorial Catholic High School at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. | Adam Fondren, Deseret News
If there is one thing that Logan Duran has had going for her, since the earliest of her soccer playing days, it has been her speed.
“She’s always been fast, faster than the others girls,” said Morgan head coach Bryan Searle.
According to Searle, however, that natural ability isn’t actually her greatest strength as a player. It is instead her tenacity.
“She wants to win every single ball,” said Searle. “She wants to get to every ball first.”
That desire, combined with her natural ability, made Duran an unstoppable force this season for the Trojans.
The senior forward netted 29 goals, along with three assists, helping to push the Trojans to the 3A title game.
It was in that game, against Judge Memorial, where Duran demonstrated just the type of player she is.
Duran netted a hat trick in that contest, repeatedly coming through for the Trojans whenever it felt as though the Bulldogs were making a run.
“She had several games where she had a hat trick this season, but the final represents her best,” said Searle. “She was focused the second she got on that field to the last second of the game. She didn’t stop.”
Duran’s three goals were instrumental in the Trojans victory over the Bulldogs and also were indicative of her senior season as a whole.
“She practices as hard as she plays in games,” said Searle. “She sets a tone for every player on our team. She has really taught our underclassman how to practice, how to play and how to come with that tenacity and fire. She is going to leave a lasting impact on our program.”
Caeli Kennedy, Rowland Hall
Rowland Hall-St. Marks High School's Caeli Kennedy compete against Waterford High School at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. | Adam Fondren, Deseret News
As far as outward challenges go, Caeli Kennedy and her Winged Lion teammates didn’t have many this season. Rowland Hall was far and away the best girls soccer team in 2A.
That being said, Kennedy was excellent all year, as she has been throughout her Winged Lions career, netting 22 goals and recording 33 assists for the state champions.
“She’s got a high soccer IQ. She understands what is expected of her on both sides of the ball,“ said Rowland Hall head coach Bobby Kennedy. “She plays box-to-box. She’s fit enough to get up and down the field. Technically, she was pretty good ability on the ball and she is a really good passer.”
All of those attributes combined to make Kennedy one of the finest players on the Winged Lions roster, as well as a team captain.
“She was voted by her peers as a team captain,” said Kennedy. “She was subdued and cerebral in her (leadership) approach, but it worked for our team.”
The greatest challenge Rowland Hall faced this season was finding the motivation to continue striving for their best, something Kennedy helped with time and again.
“We were always concerned whether our team would show up when it was required,” said Kennedy. “Caeli was instrumental in making sure that happened.”
“She grew up around the game and likes to play soccer,” Kennedy added. “She always strove to do her personal best.”