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Riverton • In a sports era in which offense is celebrated and defense often ignored, recognizing an individual defender is rare.
But it would be difficult to ignore the Riverton soccer team's defense this year. In winning their first 5A state title, the Silverwolf boys recorded 12 shutouts and did not give up a goal in four state tournament games. That included a semifinal shutout of previously unbeaten Viewmont and star scorer Lucas Cawley.
That's why Riverton defender Hunter McFall is this year's Salt Lake Tribune most valuable soccer player.
The senior defender anchored the defense with co-captain Tanner Dunkley and goalkeeper Parker Seegmiller. He might not have scored a goal all season, but he certainly is one of the main reasons the Silverwolves gave veteran coach Paul Moizer his first state championship.
What made McFall so valuable?
"He was a good leader on the field," said Moizer, whose team gave up just 11 goals all season. "He was one of the most vocal players. It was almost like having a coach on the field at times. He organized the defense really well. He had a great vision and understanding of where he needed to position himself. He was in position to make the plays that needed to be made."
McFall started playing soccer in recreation leagues when he was four, moving up to a B competition team when he was 11 before earning a spot on the USA Patriots premier team about five year ago. He became a defender almost by accident during one of those club games.
"One of our center backs got hurt and the coach was looking around to see who he could put in there," said McFall. "I volunteered. I fell in love with that position ever since."
Though he has played forward and scored goals in his high school career, McFall only recorded a few assists and no goals in his senior season at Riverton.
That did not seem to bother him.
"I honestly like getting more shutouts than goals," McFall said. "Those are way more nice."
Perhaps the most impressive defensive gem Riverton turned in was against Viewmont, the favorite going into the Class 5A tournament and a team the Silverwolves defeated 2-0 in a memorable semifinal, where the Vikings seemed to be putting pressure on Riverton's vaunted defense much of the second half.
McFall called that his team's toughest game of the year, even though Riverton lost twice during the regular season.
"We had to mark up on their star player, Lucas [Cawley]," he said. "We all came together. I kind of like playing under pressure. It makes me play better."
What made Riverton's defense so strong this year?
"It was the team chemistry we had together," said McFall. "We all bonded well on and off the field. We were all just in communication with each other. We had each other's back."
It no doubt helped that McFall and the other senior co-captain, Tanner Dunkley, have played together for about six years. McFall said this team came together as freshmen and felt as though they would have a good chance at a title because of its senior leadership.
Another thing that McFall did not do a lot was jaw with referees over calls or non calls. There was a reason for that. He has worked for South Jordan City recreation as a referee for kids soccer games.
"I feel a little bit of empathy," he said. "I feel bad for the refs. I definitely get complaints, but there is nothing you can do."
McFall's immediate plans include cheering for Spain in World Cup soccer before leaving on a two-year LDS church mission to Saltillo, Mexico, in late July.
He would like to play college soccer when he returns and did get a few letters from college coaches, but he is still largely undecided.
For now, though, he will have to be content knowing he is among the top high school soccer players in Utah.