Coal Ridge edges Aspen, locks up Slope soccer crown |

Coal Ridge edges Aspen, locks up Slope soccer crown

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jim Ryan Aspen's Lizzy Eastley, left, and Coal Ridge's Sam Wilson collide while battling for a loose ball Tuesday at Aspen High School. The Titans won, 2-0.

ASPEN ” Coal Ridge soccer coach Brian Blair is not interested in style points. After playing four games in six days, he’ll take wins any way his Titans can manufacture them.

“We knew by the time we played Vail [Mountain School on Monday] and Aspen, a win would be all that matters,” Blair said. “The way we played is not really important, because it’s not reflective of if we were feeling better.”

Chalk up another victory ” and a league crown ” for Coal Ridge. The Titans looked weary during the latter stages of Tuesday’s game in Aspen but, on the strength of first-half goals from Ashlie Bowles and Kourtney Mitchell, hung on for a 2-0 victory.

In 2008, Coal Ridge pulled out a 3-2 win on the Aspen High FieldTurf to sneak into the playoffs. This time around, a victory helped the Titans (13-0-1 overall, 12-0-1 3A Western Slope) clinch the program’s first conference title.

Even if it loses its regular-season finale Thursday against Vail Christian, Coal Ridge holds a tiebreak over 11-1-1 Basalt, the 11-time defending Slope champions.

“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Blair said. “We put it down as one of our goals to win the league, not just to beat Basalt. … For 14 games, we’ve played with that focus.”

“That [quick start] helped a lot. We needed it. You could tell by the end that the team was gassed.”

The Titans came out firing Tuesday, controlling the midfield and pressuring the Skiers’ defense from the first whistle. Good ball movement produced a prime scoring chance in the third minute. Sydney Wright stared down Aspen goalkeeper Lindsey Anderson as she charged toward the goal, the two collided and the ball bounced right to Bowles, who confidently knocked it into the net.

“Anyone could’ve been there ” I just wanted to be sure and get a good shot on it,” said Bowles, who was playing with a heavily taped left ankle, which she injured last week. “It was really important for us to start strong in the first half … and show that we weren’t tired.”

Mitchell kept that momentum going in the 19th minute. The junior forward darted up the left side as teammate Kelly Romero dribbled up the middle, drawing two defenders. Romero passed off to Mitchell, who beat Anderson to push the lead to two.

The Skiers bid for a late goal in the 34th minute when Brittany Marrs shook free and lofted a shot from 30 yards out. Titans goalkeeper Tori Verdieck soared to snag the ball near the crossbar, however.

Aspen was dealt a heavy blow one minute into the second half when Anderson was whistled for a red card. She sprinted to clear a ball then swatted away an ensuing shot while outside the box.

Junior varsity keeper Annalise Grueter filled in admirably down the stretch. She took on one Titans player in the 68th minute, dove to her left and smothered the ball. Later, she guessed right on a dive with Wright bearing down on net and deflected the shot with both gloves. The ball sailed off the post and out of play.

The Skiers’ offense controlled the tempo against a visibly fatigued Coal Ridge squad down the stretch, but they could generate no open looks against a packed-in defense.

Head coach John Gillies, whose team has locked up one of the Slope’s four postseason berths, said he was pleased with the effort. Aspen dropped the two teams’ previous meeting, 5-1, on Thursday.

“We played well,” Gillies added. “There was no pressure on us today. It’s not going to change any decision in the league. … All we want to do now is work on our stats [for the postseason].

“We worked harder in the second half than we did early. Annie went in and the girls had confidence in her. … We would’ve liked a few goals, but overall it was good.”

The Skiers are currently fourth in the Slope, one spot behind Vail Mountain School. Basalt, which hosts Aspen at 4 p.m. on Thursday, has secured second.

And, for the first time in more than a decade, there’s a new team on top.

“We’ve been through a lot, and it’s made us grow,” Bowles said. “We’ve learned to appreciate each other more and understand what a team is now.”

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