Aspen girls soccer stuns The Academy, moves into 3A state quarterfinals
The players have no doubts. And after Saturday’s stunner in the second round of the Class 3A state tournament, nobody else should doubt how dangerous the Aspen High School girls soccer team has become.
“They had more desire than the other team,” AHS coach John Gillies said on the bus back to Aspen. “These girls are running on adrenaline and belief. They believe in themselves. They know what they are capable of.”
Facing the defending state champions Saturday in rainy Lafayette, the No. 13-seeded Skiers used that belief to knock off The Academy and send the tournament’s No. 4 seed home much earlier than anticipated. AHS senior Chelsea Moore made the game-winning goal in overtime for the 3-2 Aspen win.
The Skiers (13-3) will next play in the state quarterfinals on Wednesday, where they’ll travel to No. 5 seed Lutheran. The Lions, who are based out of Parker, beat No. 12 seed Alamosa in the second round on Saturday, 6-0.
The Academy finished the season 14-2 overall, its only other loss coming early in the season in overtime to Jefferson Academy, the tournament’s top seed.
“We’ve been really confident this whole season and our team is kind of like a family this year,” Moore said. “It’s really cool, my senior year and getting this far. I think we’ve worked super hard this year and had the motivation to put in the work.”
One Step Ahead
Aspen came out swinging against The Academy. Moore found sophomore Maeve McGuire early in the contest to make it 1-0 Skiers rather quickly. However, about 10 minutes later, the Wildcats got the equalizer and the teams went to halftime tied 1-1.
McGuire scored her second goal early in the second half on a penalty kick, only to have The Academy once again rally to tie the game with about 20 minutes to play.
“There was so much rain coming down,” Gillies said. “We were playing on turf and we knew the ball would skip off the surface. We were trying to get more shots on the edge of the box.”
Moore’s goal came in this fashion about five minutes into the first overtime period. Her left-footed strike somehow managed to slip through the goalie’s hands, and that was all she wrote. It was the second overtime win in as many playoff games for the Skiers after Payton Curley’s goal sealed Wednesday’s home game against No. 20 Faith Christian, a 1-0 AHS win.
Gillies was particularly complementary of the AHS defense, in particular junior Margo McHugh. Normally the team’s left center back, McHugh moved up to the midfield against the Wildcats and was tasked with slowing down their star player, Mandy Stricker. Stricker entered the game with a team-high 31 assists to go with 17 goals.
“I was on her the whole time and it was kind of a chase-fest. She was really good and it was good to shut her down and not give her any opportunities,” McHugh said. “I just tried to stay on her and play my best game. And I was pretty aggressive.”
The Final Eight
Aspen made it to the second round of the state tournament the past two seasons as well, but had both of those games end with blowout losses. It’s been many years since the team made the third round of a state tournament (Gillies was unsure when that was, but was confident it’s happened before). The Aspen girls have never made the state championship game.
“Honestly, The Academy is a really good team and this wasn’t necessarily expected from us, but I think we really put it together,” McHugh said. “Everything is really coming together for us as a team and we are surprising ourselves.”
Aspen’s upset of The Academy is only the second biggest upset of the 3A tournament this spring, in terms of seeding. On Saturday, No. 23 seed Vail Mountain knocked off No. 7 Liberty Common, 2-1, and will face No. 2 seed Colorado Academy in the quarterfinals.
The Aspen-Lutheran winner will play the winner of No. 1 Jefferson Academy and No. 9 Colorado Springs Christian in the May 19 semifinals. The state championship game is scheduled for May 22.
Basalt, the No. 19 seed, had its season come to an end Saturday with a 3-0 loss at No. 3 seed Kent Denver. The Longhorns went 11-5-1. The Sun Devils will play No. 6 Manitou Springs in the other quarterfinal game.
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One of the Demons’ key players, senior co-captain Graci Dietrich has severe hearing loss and relies on hand signs and lip-reading, rather than verbal communication, between her basketball teammates and coaches.