There were two seismic shifts in the midst of the Desert Vista girls soccer team's season that allowed the Thunder to develop into a Class 5A Division I state semifinalist.

The first required some distance and the other required position changes.

Without either aspect of the season, the Thunder's season might very well be over instead of playing top-ranked and two-time defending champion Phoenix Xavier at 5 tonight at Campo Verde High in Gilbert.

"We were not gelling," Desert Vista coach Paul Manoogian said. "We had girls who thought it was easy; girls who weren't in tune because they weren't starters. At the same time, we were a brand new team. We lost 10 seniors from last year.

"It took until they went on their retreat. Since then they have been very smart for the most part, technically and tactically smart. We are so much further along, sharper and together."

The Thunder (16-5-1) grew into the fifth-seed, losing just twice since January. After beating Sierra Vista Buena in the first round, Desert Vista beat No. 4 Gilbert 1-0 in overtime in the quarterfinals on Rachel Ressler's goal.

Evidently the retreat in Show Low over winter break did wonders.

"It was a lot of good team bonding and no adults," senior Katelyn "KK" Tupponce said. "We kind of had a talk about what we needed to do to get better. We cleared the air about some things and got it all straightened out."

Ressler said the team came back from the cabin, owned by Jessica Cutter's family, in the White Mountains closer than ever.

"We became close, and we are now a family," the sophomore said.

The other half of the equation had to do with personnel changes.

"It wasn't an experiment, but we had to change things up," said Manoogian, whose team lost 3-1 to Xavier on Jan. 21. "It was figuring out the right pieces in the right place."

One of the moves involved putting Tupponce, who will play at New Mexico State next year, in her normal defensive position. After playing all of her high school career in the back, she started this season as a forward.

She enjoyed it, but understood that for the team to be at its best Tupponce, who Manoogian likened to a shut-down cornerback in football, needed to go back to defense.

"It was good for the team," she said. "I played defense since I have been on varsity. I'd be more than happy to go back to forward, but this is what the team needs me to do."

It allowed Ressler, who started the year as a sweeper, MacKenzie Semerad and others to be more aggressive on free balls because they had Tupponce, Julia Waterhouse and Cutter in front of goalie MacKenzie Meegan.

"We have allowed, I think, seven goals in 16 games since then after allowing nine in the first nine games," Manoogian said. "When we realized that is what we needed we reached a different level, and we have been a different team ever since."

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