One Team All Green

The Players’ Corner | Connor Salmon, Men’s Soccer

UVU Athletics

2014 – Year One

Playing soccer at Utah Valley University began in 2013 for a handful of us.  Training sessions consisted of only 6-10 players because the recruiting process for our 2014 season was still in the works. The inaugural 2014 season arrived before we knew it, and UMASS was in town for a nationally televised match.  I remember the stands were filled and the mood was set for the match.

It didn’t take long for Karson Payton to score the first goal for UVU. In fact, Karson scored in the 5th minute and we never looked back.  That goal set the tone for this program, making a statement to the nation that we were for real.  We went on to win the game 5-1.  A couple weeks later, we were put to the test against #4 UC Irvine (who went on to be ranked #1) and took them into double overtime before losing in the final minutes.  

2015 – Year Two

Our second year as a program was a statement.  We gained a lot of experience/chemistry from our first season and it showed.  We went on to have a 14-win season, spending some of that time in the top 25.  After earning a first round bye in the WAC tournament, we beat UNLV in the semi final.  The WAC championship against Seattle U was, for the lack of a better word, a crazy match.  We took a 1-0 lead off of an Alex Neff, upper 90 free kick.  

After going on to what looked like our first ever WAC championship, a questionable penalty was given in the 87th minute to Seattle U.  They equalized making the game 1-1 and went on to win 5-4 in PKs.  

After losing a heart-breaker in the WAC championship, we put our fate into the hands of the NCAA selection committee to award us an at-large bid.  We sat as a team in the Presidential South Suite waiting to hear our name be called.  I remember hearing the word “Utah” and everyone freaking out, screaming that we were in.  We flew to Dallas that week to take on No. 6 SMU in the first round.  Unfortunately, we dropped the match 0-2 after having many parts of the game in our favor.  We felt very good going into year three of the program.

2016 – Year Three

We opened with a bang.  Hosting University of Washington in what was the first-ever top-25 matchup in UVU’s history.  I remember both us and UW being preseason favorites to make noise in the eventual NCAA tournament.  As if that was not enough motivation, our teammate and close friend, Austin Buxton, was diagnosed with testicular cancer.  The news broke only 2 days before the game.  Myself and a couple other teammates had our under armor tank tops printed with “BUXTY 23” and heart encircling the print to wear under our jerseys.   I remember the crowd filling in around the field because there weren’t enough seats in the stands.  We opened the game going up 1-0 on a counter attack lead by Gui, Karson, and finished off by Hoffy.  

Paul Hoffmeister scores the first goal against 20th-ranked Washington in the 2016 season-opener. Photo courtesy of UVU Athletics.

After scoring what was arguably the most emotional goal in our short history, we all ran to the fans, lifting up our jerseys to show our love for Buxton.  After losing Karson to a red card in the 49th minute, we had a lot of work to be done, with the score tied, 1-1.  Only a few minutes after the red card, Aaron Meyer and Gui combined to get down the left side for a cross that was mishandled by their keeper and buried into the back of the net by Hoffy.  We held on to win a wild top-25 home opener.

Later that season, on the road at Incarnate Word, we were crowned WAC regular season champions.  We watched Air Force beat Seattle in an afternoon game to seal our first place finish in WAC regular season play.  I remember when the final seconds ticked off the clock of that game. We all rushed out of rooms into the hallways of our hotel in celebration of our first WAC championship.  We went on to win 15 games throughout our season (tied for second most in the nation).

That year, we spent nearly every single week of the season in the top 25.  After being upset in the first round of the WAC tournament, we were confident that we would still receive an at- large bid.  Unfortunately, the call never came and what we thought was our best season yet ended with a weird decision to not put us in the NCAA tournament.  

I remember UVU men’s soccer being picked by an expert as a “dark horse” to the Final Four, thinking we would for sure get an at-large bid.  The bitter taste will probably never go away but it serves as a friendly reminder that we controlled our own fate and should’ve taken care of business in the WAC tournament.

2017 – Year Four

Our fourth season as a program opened up with another top-25 matchup, except this time it was a top-20 matchup.

The newly branded UVU Den cheering on the UVU men’s soccer team against 13th-ranked Akron in 2017 season-opener. Photo courtesy of UVU Athletics.

The Akron Zips, 2010 national champions and college soccer powerhouse, made their way into town.  This matchup alone showed the respect that we had earned from college soccer.  Two years in a row we hosted a soccer powerhouse for our home opener. Only this time, the stakes were even higher.  

The game was similar to the Washington game a year prior.  Sold out stadium, fans who couldn’t find a seat gathered around the sidelines of the field.  The Den going crazy, taking up nearly the entire east side of the field.  The atmosphere was like nothing I had ever played in front of before and we wanted to give them a show.  

In the 53rd minute we earned a corner kick that would turn into the game-winner.  Gio Vasquez “soared like a salmon” in the words of commentator Shawn Blymiller and put the ball past Akron’s keeper into the left side of the net.  I can remember seeing the ball go in from the corner and running to celebrate with Gio and the guys.  We ran over to the Den and celebrated what would turn into a big win for us.  

Although the 2017 season didn’t end the way we had hoped, there is no denying the history of what we accomplished as a program over the past four years.  44 wins, WAC championship, NCAA appearance, and countless weeks spent in the top 25.  This program has shaped all of us on the team to become better people, teammates, and players overall.  Already sending players like Skyler Milne into the pro’s and many more to come in the future. 

We all had expectations of what our time at UVU would bring. Those expectations were achieved by determination, hard work, persistence and togetherness.  I will forever be grateful for the chance I had to be a Wolverine.  To have put on that jersey, and represent the badge that was on it.  I’m extremely thankful to the amazing teammates who have become like brothers to me.  These relationships go beyond soccer and have given me lifelong friends.  The coaching staff has given us every opportunity to succeed and I am forever thankful to examples they set for us and life lessons that will be cherished forever.  I hope that one day my kids will be Wolverines and I can come back to the school I love and cheer them on.

 

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