Highland soccer leaning more on each other
Prep soccer • Formation change, new coach mean strong early returns for Rams.
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Becky Blommer tried to keep it a secret. But it only took a little digging for some parents of Highland High students to find out that one of the school's most bubbly English teachers had played high-school soccer at Cottonwood.

It just so happened the girls soccer team needed a coach. Blommer, always one to think of her students first, allowed herself to be pushed into the job.

"I had a lot of those girls in my classes, and they deserve a good coaching staff," she says, the giddiness trickling through her voice. "We wanted to set high goals this year, and these girls have gone above my expectations."

By the time the season is through, Highland might be surpassing a lot of expectations. A 4-11 squad last year, the Rams struggled to stay afloat in a difficult region.

While region play still looms, a 2-0 start with a pair of shutouts is encouraging — especially considering that the mild-mannered teacher and her assistants brought a system overhaul to the team. Not much is as it used to be, and it seems to be for the better so far.

"We're just kind of united now," senior defender Caitlin Jarratt says. "We kind of worked together this summer to make sure there were no cliques. Sometimes we have our differences, but it's pretty easy for us to get along."

The chemistry is necessary, especially considering the team's new 4-2-3-1 system. It's a pass-heavy formation, one that can be tough for impatient teenagers. It's a possession-focused defense, and midfielders in particular have to have strong vision to find the open pass.

The formation has the added benefit of increasing the emphasis on defense. Goalkeeper Abby Wilcox, who helped lock down the first two shutouts, is pretty happy about the adjustments.

"I think we've worked a lot with communication in the back," she says. "It's not just the defenders and the goalkeeper. It's everybody. Everybody gets back on defense."

That's not to say the changes have been without some struggles. The players admit they are still growing into understanding the options in the scheme, and it may take some time before it feels natural.

When striker Kira Heesch was moved to left wing, for example, she thought it might take away from her scoring ability. But two games in, three goals later, she's a believer.

"I told her it was a scoring position," Blommer says. "She just has to play differently. A lot of girls are slowly learning how to play. We're still working out the kinks of the formation."

The ultimate test lies in region play. Highland will have to claw to survive two rounds against Region 6 teams, including powers such as East and Bountiful. Both programs were title contenders last year, and Woods Cross may also have crept into that class this season.

Just missing the postseason this year left the Rams feeling down, but that has since channeled into productive workouts and practices.

"The best thing so far is we have a really solid work ethic," senior defender Megan Warr says. "We've worked together better and connected."

Blommer would be heartbroken to see her team miss the playoffs after the work they've put in. Like a teacher, she wouldn't want to see effort go unrewarded.

"It's given me new appreciation for coaching — it's a tough, time-consuming job," she says. "But these girls have really stepped up and showed the leadership it takes. It's really built their confidence."

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon —

Highland steps up its game

New coach Becky Blommer and her staff have helped pioneer a move to a 4-2-3-1 formation that is more passing-oriented than in previous years.

The Rams started out hot in their first two games, scoring five goals and allowing none in a pair of wins.