ST. GEORGE — It only matters where you finish.
To say the Dixie Flyers got off to a slow start may be unfair, considering the team won 80% of its games in the regular season. But after dropping two of its first three games and three of its first seven, the Flyers were playing catchup with the then-undefeated Crimson Cliffs Mustangs and the Snow Canyon Warriors and on the mend with some early injuries.
After losing to the Mustangs 4-3 on their home turf on March 30, the Flyers were on the outside looking in on the No. 1 spot in Region 9. Fast forward four weeks and the Flyers claimed that spot on the season’s last day. They finished in a tie with Snow Canyon and the two will be recognized as co-champions, but through tiebreakers Dixie would take the crown.
“We’re grateful. It could’ve went to any of the top four teams,” Dixie head coach Travis Wilkinson said. “We started out kind of behind and had to fight our way back.”
It didn’t come easy. The comparatively slow start set the Flyers back in the middle of the pack. The one-goal loss to Crimson Cliffs gave the Mustangs their sixth straight Region 9 win to start the season. Snow Canyon topped them the next week to climb into a tie and establish a top two teams. Meanwhile, Dixie lurked.
But, the loss to Crimson also marked a turning point for Wilkinson’s team. It was a transitional point in Wilkinson’s three-stage layout of their schedule.
“I always see the season as three thirds,” Wilkinson said. “One third is just, winning is important, but it’s just figuring out the system you’re going to play with this talent. That middle third is really where you focus in and build and that last third is where you just get laser-focused and try to get into the postseason.”
Sitting at 4-2 in Region 9 and 4-3 overall, the Flyers were nearing the midway point following the loss to Crimson. They were into the third stage of the season where they had to start putting the pieces together.
Players recovered from injury and started to fall into their roles. The coaches figured out how best to utilize the talent in front of them.
After the Crimson loss, they won out the final eight games on the schedule. In the process, they outscored opponents 35-9 and beat every team in Region 9 at least once, topping Pine View twice.
The stretch featured its toughest test in the waning days of the season, when the Flyers played three straight against Desert Hills, Snow Canyon and Crimson Cliffs: the other top three teams in the region.
“I call it running the gauntlet, playing those top three teams in a row,” Wilkinson said. “If we drop any of those, it doesn’t happen.”
Those matches perhaps showed the parity at the top. The Desert Hills and Snow Canyon contests went to overtime. The rematch with Crimson Cliffs was decided by one goal. One lucky bounce the other way and Dixie’s chances at a region title would have evaporated.
Instead, they exited the stretch in the driver’s seat for the top spot entering the final day of play. With a win on Tuesday, Dixie clinched at least a share of the region’s best record at 12-2. Only Snow Canyon could match them, which they did with a 2-1 victory over Crimson Cliffs themselves.
The difference for Dixie, however, was they were the team to deal the Warriors their pair of losses. No other team had given Snow Canyon a notch in the L column. The first tiebreaker in the Region 9 handbook is head-to-head records. The next one is a more complicated common regional opponents record, had they split. If that didn’t decide it, the winner would have been decided by a literal coinflip.
Instead, Dixie High Athletic Director Mike Bair told St. George News the two schools will share the title.
It gave the program its first No. 1 finish since 2015, when Region 9 was still in 3A and Dixie claimed its third state title in four seasons. The Flyers have constantly pushed a return to the top slot, finishing in second with every year in between, but hadn’t returned to supremacy until this year.
For their efforts, they were rewarded with a first-round bye in the state tournament and a No. 3 seed overall. They’ll play the winner of Friday’s No. 14 Cedar and No. 19 Canyon View on May 5 in an all-Region 9 matchup.
“It makes me nervous,” Wilkinson said of playing a regional opponent in the playoffs following Tuesday’s win before the bracket was released.
Snow Canyon will play the winner of No. 13 Ben Lomond and No. 20 Tooele on Wednesday as well.
Kickoff for both games is at 4 p.m.
The full 4A UHSAA boys soccer state bracket can be found here.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.