Aspen High girls soccer team enters season ranked No. 4 in Class 3A, has another deep run in mind
Last spring, the Aspen High School girls soccer team surprised just about everyone with a remarkable run to the Class 3A state semifinals. A year later, a return trip wouldn’t be surprising to anyone.
“We only lost by one unlucky goal last year, and that team went on to win. So it was that close,” AHS junior Maeve McGuire said. “Since we did so well last year, I think it’s kind of an expectation John and Michele have for us, as well as ourselves. We are not just hoping to go that far, we are expecting it. I think that raises the standard for practice and for our games.”
Led by longtime head coach John Gillies and assistant Michele Gray, the Skiers are set to begin their 2019 season Tuesday with a game at Class 5A Grand Junction. The Tigers beat AHS last year, 4-1, before finishing 10-5-1 and losing as the No. 16 seed to No. 17 seed Boulder in the first round of the state playoffs.
“It’s been a long time coming,” McGuire said of the season opener. “It’s going to be a tough first game, but I think that’s kind of what we need to get ready for the rest of the season.”
Aspen enters the season with astronomically high expectations. They are ranked preseason No. 4 in 3A by CHSAANow.com, behind only No. 1 Jefferson Academy, No. 2 Kent Denver and No. 3 Colorado Academy. The Skiers lost a solid senior class a season ago, led by league player of the year Chelsea Moore, but what returns has the team abuzz with excitement.
On top of McGuire, the team returns sophomore Kelley Francis, who made a name for herself by breaking the program’s season-single scoring mark as a freshman. Francis scored 32 goals in 16 games. McGuire was second on the team with 10 goals.
Moore was the team’s assist leader a year ago with 14 in 14 games, and it’ll be her presence in the midfield that will be the biggest shoes to fill. Payton Curley, now a junior, was second on the team with eight assists last spring.
“We are so excited to get on the field and come together as a team and really bring what we’ve been working so hard on to a game scenario,” AHS senior McKenna Kiker said. “We can do this. It really pushes us to work a little bit harder.”
What fuels this team’s confidence is that run a season ago. The Skiers went 6-1 in Western Slope League play and made the 3A state tournament as the No. 13 seed. After escaping No. 20 Faith Christian in the first round, Aspen decided to bust some brackets.
Facing No. 4 The Academy — at the time the defending state champions — in the second round, Aspen pulled out a stunning 3-2 win. Then, in the quarterfinals, Aspen knocked off No. 5 Lutheran, 4-3, to advance to what was believed to be the program’s first state semifinal.
The season ended with a 1-0 loss to No. 1 seed Jefferson Academy, which went on to beat No. 3 Kent Denver in overtime in the championship game. Kent beat No. 2 Colorado Academy in its semifinal, meaning all four state semifinalists from 2018 will begin the 2019 season ranked in the top four.
“There is a little pressure behind it, but I think that we can really live up to those expectations this year,” Kiker said. “It forces us to work a little bit harder knowing that we did so well last year. I definitely have some high expectations for this team this year. Now we know what it’s like to get that far. We want that experience again and to relive those moments and how awesome that was to be in the semifinals.”
After the opener in Grand Junction, the Skiers are scheduled to host Vail Mountain on Thursday and Delta on Saturday.
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