The Desert Hills boys soccer team is off to its best start in program history.
The Thunder sport a perfect 6-0 record and lead the state in goals scored with 43. The next closest team in any classification is Grantsville, which sits at 27.
Led by seniors Hunter Spray and Kanon Heaton, the Thunder are averaging more than seven goals per game and have outscored their opponents 43-2 during the first six games of the season.
While some may point to a softer preseason schedule, it’s not like Desert Hills is playing a bunch of nobodies either. So far this season, the Thunder have played two 4A schools (Box Elder, Spanish Fork) and have outscored them 15-1.
“I had no doubt that Desert Hills had a lot of talent, and I expected to field a team that would compete for a state championship,” head coach Benji Nelson said.
Nelson became the Thunder head coach for both the boys and the girls soccer teams at the start of the school year after transferring from Hurricane last year, and his impact has been felt immediately.
“Coach Nelson has done a great job helping us execute at a higher level,” Spray said. “He’s been great to work with and our team has really benefited. We’re all having a blast.”
Another big difference from last season to this season was the number of returning players. With just three seniors graduating last year, the team has proven experience all over the field.
“That (experience) is a big part of it and everyone has really just come together and everyone is playing their role,” Heaton added. “We’re all working hard, having a lot of fun and it shows.”
While a senior-laden team, as well as the hiring of Nelson, has helped fuel the run this year, the biggest factor has been the motivation to prove to everyone that last year was just a fluke.
After dropping a tough 2-1 decision at home against Hurricane last year, the Tigers leapfrogged the Thunder to take the fourth and final playoff spot in Region 9 and advanced to play in the 3A state tournament.
“We remember that game,” Heaton said. “It was tough missing out on the playoffs. What hurt the most is that we knew we were better than that. So this year we’ve come out with a lot to prove and to show everyone what we are all about.”
With that chip on their shoulder, Desert Hills has certainly gotten the attention of coaches around the region.
“Are they really scoring that much,” said one coach with another adding that they look like the team to beat this year.
With 15 goals on the year, Spray has already doubled the number of goals that he had last year.
“Hunter is just really creative and is making great runs. The goals he’s getting are not just patty-cake stuff. He’s taking tough shots, making great plays and is going to be a challenge for any keeper to stop,” Nelson said. “He’s a special player and is one of those guys that you want on the team because they don’t come around very often.”
Averaging nearly three goals a game, Spray is on track to break the single-season record of 40 goals in a season.
“Oh he’s going to get it,” Heaton said smiling. “He’s crazy good and just doesn’t miss.”
But that’s not the only record at stake for the Thunder.
With a season-high four assists against Carbon last week, Heaton is on track to break the single-season assist record.
“More than half of our goals come because of him (Kanon),” Spray said. “If he keeps that up, he’s also going to break some records.”
When asked to describe the play of Heaton and Spray, Nelson compared them to NBA Hall of Famers John Stockton and Karl Malone.
“They are both great players that just have that connection with each other,” he said. “They remind me a lot of Stockton and Malone and it should be fun to see what we can accomplish this year.”