Aspen girls soccer hopes to make history against No. 1 seed Jefferson Academy
DENVER — Friday’s sendoff at Aspen High School included two silver balloons, which together made the number 13.
While the balloons were of particular consternation to coach John Gillies on the four-hour bus ride to Denver, their symbology was important to the AHS girls soccer team.
The Skiers, the No. 13 seed in the Class 3A state tournament, are quite the outliers in Saturday’s semifinals, which includes the top three seeds in the bracket.
“It’s pretty crazy,” AHS senior Nicole Buglione said. “I never would have expected it, but our team is doing really well and they are really coming together. You would never expect a little mountain team to be beating these huge Denver teams.”
Aspen (14-3 overall) faces No. 1 seed Jefferson Academy (14-2-1) at 11 a.m. Saturday at All-City Stadium in Denver. Should the Skiers pull another upset, they’d play Tuesday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in the program’s first championship game.
“Us being the underdogs, it just makes it so much better when we win,” AHS junior Emily Brenniger said. “I feel like we have a lot of confidence built up now, but we can’t let that get to our heads. We just got to go in and play like we always play.”
The road to the semis
Aspen has nine straight wins entering Saturday’s semifinal game. The Skiers haven’t lost since falling 5-2 at Basalt on April 12, a team it has since beaten. As the regular season league champions, Aspen hosted a first-round game as the lucky 13 seed, beating Faith Christian 1-0 in overtime.
Three days later, the Skiers stunned No. 4 seed The Academy — the defending state champions — 3-2 in overtime to make the quarterfinals. There, AHS freshman Kelley Francis scored four goals to break the team’s single-season scoring record and guide the Skiers to a 4-3 win over No. 5 seed Lutheran.
“This is insane. I’m super excited going to semifinals,” Aspen sophomore goalie Ella Trane said. “We can make it to finals if we just put in all the work and want we have. If we really want it, we can go get it.”
Jefferson Academy has won seven straight games entering the semifinal. The Jaguars earned the tournament’s top overall seed by beating teams like Manitou Springs, Peak to Peak and Colorado Springs Christian. They also have beaten all three teams Aspen had to get through in the playoffs. The Academy took Jefferson Academy to overtime before losing 3-2 on March 22.
Aspen last played Jefferson Academy in 2016 in the second round of the state tournament. Also a No. 13 seed that season, the Skiers lost 3-0 to the No. 4 seed Jaguars.
“We got beat pretty bad, but that’s not the team we had now,” Buglione said. “We get in our heads a lot, but then we just got to get composed and be more calm and play our game.”
Jefferson Academy has a pair of strong scorers in senior Rachel Schlagel (14 goals) and junior Mira Houck (12 goals), although both pale in comparison to the 32 scored by Aspen’s Francis this season.
“Kelley Francis is definitely a big asset to us,” Brenniger said. “I’m feeling awesome. It’s really exciting to get this far. It gives me hope that we might win, because we’ve made it this far.”
Following Aspen vs. Jefferson Academy on Saturday, No. 2 Colorado Academy will play No. 3 Kent Denver. Rain is forecast for the Denver area Saturday.
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The Skiers’ latest victim was Vail Mountain School on Monday, a 67-47 non-league rout inside the AHS gymnasium. It was the second time the teams had played in less than a week, as AHS also won in Vail last Tuesday, 40-28. Aspen is in position to possibly host a playoff game next week.