Utah State Eastern's Best Teammate

Sophie Cannon's story started off much like any other elite high school soccer player. Through her first three years at Karl G. Maeser Preparatory Academy in Lindon, Utah, Cannon had already racked up the accolades. Cannon set school records for most goals in a game and most career points in program history. She was also a standout basketball player. Then heading into her junior year, the soon-to-be three-time All-State player was named the team captain.

Cannon enjoyed a very successful high school career, earning multiple All-State selections in addition to being the team captain for two seasons. It would pay dividends. Cannon led Maeser Prep to the state championship in 2015, falling 1-0. But the sky was the limit for the young soccer prodigy.

Cannon spent the early part of her offseason refining her skills. 

"I was really working on my mental game on the field, and I remember practicing volleys off of crosses a lot," said Cannon. "I wanted to catch up to the college level of playing soccer."

Cannon finished her very successful high school soccer career in the Fall of 2016. Her life still revolved around the world's game, and not even a serious medical diagnosis could change that.

What started out as intermittent pain in her joints, a common ailment for someone as involved in sports as Cannon, soon proved to be something much more serious. In February 2017, Sophie's doctors diagnosed her with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. 

"At very first, my mind wasn't really on soccer," said Cannon. "I got a ton of support. My club team, high school team, neighbors, friends, extended family all visited me, it was almost overwhelming how much support I got the first few weeks [after diagnosis]."

It was a new normal that Cannon had to adapt to in her post-diagnosis life. She would have to miss school and social events for the early part of the treatment as it severely compromised her immune system. Any exposure to the public would have put her in greater danger of serious complications.

"It's almost as if I'm living a completely different life than I was before I had Leukemia," recalled Cannon. "I look different, feel different, act somewhat different. I would pretty much have to find a different routine through every phase of the treatment. I remember there being times now and then when I would feel just a little bit normal, and I would just enjoy those moments while they lasted."

There were many things that kept Cannon going during the hardest days. Religion was just one of them, Cannon's Mormon faith proved to be one of the things that helped early on. The day she learned the had Leukemia, her dad gave her a father's blessing-- giving her the strength and comfort that everything would turn out okay. 

Cannon also had a tremendous support group. Two of her best friends would come to visit her an hour away from Lindon at Intermountain Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City where Cannon was receiving her treatments. The rest of her family has been there, too. Her eight siblings were there when Sophie needed clean clothes, food from a favorite restaurant, or even company on hard days or nights.

Throughout everything that had suddenly changed in Sophie's life, soccer never fully left it.

Just two months prior to her diagnosis, Cannon planned to play soccer at Utah State Eastern after her high school coach thought she would be a good fit there.

"Soccer was so important in coping with Leukemia, said Cannon. "All throughout the initial few months of super intense treatment, I was just looking forward to the moment I could get back out on the field and play the game I love with a team and coach I was excited to play with."

A heart-touching moment came on December 7th, 2017 in a classroom at Maeser Prep. Unbeknownst to Cannon, Utah State Eastern head coach Ammon Bennett had shown up with a surprise for Sophie: a full-ride scholarship to play soccer for the Eagles.

 "Coach Bennett is just the nicest person I've ever known, and he awarded me an all-expenses-paid scholarship in order to come down here, even though I can't even play," remarked Cannon.

Cannon would defer her scholarship for a year in order to focus on treatments and the healing process. Her plans never waivered to move to Price and be a member of the Utah State Eastern women's soccer team. In August of 2018, she moved into the same dorm room as her younger sister who is also attending the school.

While she can't play, Cannon is still a very active part of the team. 

"Sophie is such a positive force for our team," said Bennett. "She has reminded us of the love of the game and how fragile yet special life can be."

Utah State Eastern wore special orange Sophie Strong jerseys on a match against Otero on September 22nd. On September 22nd, in a non-conference match with Otero, Utah State Eastern donned special orange jerseys that said #SophieStrong in support of their teammate. Orange is the color of leukemia awareness and the game was to help raise funds to offset some of the medical costs the Cannon family has endured over the last 20 months.

"It gave me chills thinking about it right now," said teammate McKenna Wiscombe after the Eagles' 4-0 win. "Just to have that moment with Sophie and with what she is going through, it feels really good to give her something so little back for what all that she has done for us this season" 

"It's the least our program could do for her," said Bennett. "If I could give her the gift to play [competitively] again somehow, regardless of the cost, I would do it in an instant."

Cannon is taking 15 credits her first semester in Price, Utah. She currently plans to study to become a physical therapy assistant. She needs an electric scooter to get to class, but she still attends even on days she may not be at full strength. You'll also find her at every soccer practice, giving encouragement when needed from the sidelines.

Every Thursday, Cannon drives two hours to South Jordan, Utah for physical therapy sessions intended to help her regain as much range of motion as possible. It's then back to her parent's home where she gets to relax with her family for a few hours before driving back to campus. Cannon still takes around eight chemo pills a night, a part of the maintenance stage of treatment which can sometimes last for months on end. 

She still gets out away from soccer and studies to enjoy life as any college student should. She's visited the nearby Manti and Payson temples as well as giving back to the church and is a member of the Relief Society, a philanthropic and educational women's organization and an official part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Even after her time at Utah Eastern State is finished, Cannon still wants soccer to remain a central part of her life, in the form of coaching. "I might go back to my high school (Maeser) and coach the girl's team there." 

"I most likely won't be able to play competitive soccer ever again," said Cannon. That's mostly due to Avascular Necrosis, which is a weakening of the bones that likely was a result of the steroids Cannon had to take with her chemo treatments. 

"But that doesn't mean I won't ever play soccer. I'm keeping my cleats for the day I will finally be able to put them on and play again." 

Utah State Eastern faces No. 9 Snow in the semifinals of the Scenic West Athletic Conference Women's Soccer Tournament on Friday morning. The Eagles were ranked as high as No. 20 in the September 5th rankings, but have had some poor luck when they hit conference play. Utah State Eastern and Snow have met three times already this season, with the Badgers sweeping the season series. All three games were decided in the second half. The Eagles even led the Badgers in the first meeting until Snow was able to capitalize on 83rd and 88th-minute goals to win 3-2.

Utah State Eastern knows the entire field very well. In the geographically sparse Scenic West, every team plays each other three times over the course of the regular season. This makes for an interesting postseason as all the teams become very familiar to one another.

As for Cannon, she will have surgery in the next year or two to make repairs and adjustments to her knees and elbows which should drastically improve her mobility and hopefully get her back on to the soccer pitch where she belongs, even if non-competitively.

But until then, you can expect her to remain as an inspiration and best teammate possible to her Eagles family.

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Utah State Eastern faces No. 9 Snow College Friday in the semifinals of the Scenic West Athletic Conference Women's Soccer Tournament at Zion's Bank Stadium at 1:00 PM ET (11:00 AM MT) in Salt Lake City. You can follow along here. To follow Sophie's day-to-day life, you can visit her Facebook page at SophieStrong.

 

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