BOISE — Molly McCabe was a third-string goalie this time last year.

What a difference a year makes.

The keeper was an essential part of the Boise Thorns U-15 girls soccer team’s runner-up finish at the Far West Regional Championships Sunday at Simplot Sports Complex. She helped them become just the third team in Idaho history to qualify for the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships, joining the 2015 U-19 Nova-Nationals girls and the 2013 U-15 Boise Nationals girls. The National Championships will be held July 23-28 at Overland Park, Kansas.

McCabe recorded four shutouts and allowed just three goals in six games. It was one of the many reasons why she was called up to the stage first by head coach Jason Vittrup during the award ceremony.

“Molly has come a long way,” Vittrup said. “... We knew she was a keeper and we said, ‘Hey, if you want to be on the top team, you can make it as a keeper.’ And she jumped in with both feet.”

The incoming freshman at Borah High was splitting time on the U-14 reserve team last year when the starting goalie left. She tried out.

McCabe didn’t get it. She was demoted down to the C Team instead.

The person who got the job was 45 minutes late to her own tryout.

“That was a shocker because I have been with this club since I was 5,” McCabe said. “When they posted the tryout results, it was like midnight and I was crying for an hour afterward.”

But McCabe got her shot in March.

When Boise was once again without a keeper, Vittrup called her for another tryout. There was no doubt this time around.

“Molly came in and was solid,” Vittrup said. “It was the maturation over time. You could see her getting stronger blocking shots. Her leg improved to where she could play longer balls out when needed. She got super calm with her feet to where we could trust her to pass out of the back. All of a sudden, she was owning it.”

However, she still almost missed the Far West Regional Championships.

She tore a ligament in her left shoulder in April before breaking a finger at the Idaho State Cup last month. The injuries had little to no effect in her debut, though.

McCabe began the tournament with a 2-0 shutout over 7 Elite Academy from Utah on June 17. She followed that up by giving up just one goal during a 3-1 victory against Arizona’s FC Tucson the next day. McCabe then entered Sunday’s championship against the Utah Celtic FC having not surrendered a single goal in three consecutive games.

“She’s been amazing,” Thorns winger Avery McBride said. “She works so hard on and off the field and I couldn’t say anything bad about her. She’s the nicest girl and really humble and I’m so proud of her and all that she’s done.

“... She’s definitely proven herself and proven her spot and it’s kind of like, ‘Why did we have this stud on the B team for so long.’”

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But the streak ended three minutes into the title game. It was all part of an uncharacteristic start by the Horns.

They had outscored their opponents 12-1 before falling behind 2-0 10 minutes in on goals by Ellie Tadjue and Pyper Vance. McCabe looked visibly shaken.

“That’s something the coaches work with me on because I psychoanalyze every mistake I make,” McCabe said. “So I just had to realize that I’m no good to my team if my head’s down and I’m not 100 percent invested in this game.”

McCabe rebounded by keeping Utah off the board the rest of the way while her team rallied back behind her.

The comeback started when Kyndra Lyons scored outside the 6-yard box off a low cross from McBride in the 28th minute. McBride got in on the scoring herself by knocking in one of two rebounds off a pair of shots from Lyons during the 72nd minute for the equalizer at 2-2.

The game remained deadlocked for the rest of regulation and through two overtimes, setting up a penalty kick shootout. It wasn’t kind to the Thorns.

Halle Hatten was up first. She had her shot scooped up by Utah keeper Brooklyn Northcutt. Hayden Wilsey scored on her attempt before Natasja Davis slipped and missed in the third go-around.

McCabe didn’t fare any better.

Utah’s Sierra Pennock made her pay on a slight hesitation in the first round before McCabe barely moved on wrong guesses on goals by Vance and Addison Larsen. The game ended seconds later when McBride’s fourth-round shot went straight into the hands of Northcutt in a 3-1 penalty kick shootout loss to the Celtic FC.

“Honestly, I felt like all I needed to do was save one and my team would take care of the rest, so I wasn’t happy,” McCabe said. “I’m generally good with PKs, so to guess right and miss it and then to guess wrong, I just felt like I blew it for my team.”

McCabe and the rest of the team will have a shot at redemption.

The Thorns still advanced to the National Championships because Utah had already qualified by winning the National League Division. So Boise took the tournament’s automatic spot by finishing runner-up.

It’s a result few would have predicted. The Thorns were dead last in the Mountain Division of the Elite Clubs National League standings at 1-6 coming in.

But things can change quickly.

Just ask McCabe.

“I had a coach tell me I would never be ECNL material. People were just putting me down,” McCabe said. “I started out at the bottom and I’ve come so far and it’s only motivated me to keep working. I know I can go so much further.”

Brandon Walton covers Ada County and College of Idaho sports for the Idaho Press.

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