Dream run ends for Aspen girls soccer with semifinal loss to Jefferson Academy
DENVER — There was a confidence, an undeniable feeling, on the Aspen High School girls soccer team’s sideline at halftime that they would win. The Skiers had just outplayed the No. 1 seed in the Class 3A state tournament for 40 minutes and only needed that one play to put them over the top.
A play like that finally came, but it didn’t go quite as Aspen had hoped.
“We looked pretty comfortable. We were quite happy,” AHS coach John Gillies said of the halftime feeling. “One moment of lack of concentration, should we put it. That’s the way soccer is.”
Aspen’s Cinderella story ended Saturday — the day of the school’s prom, nonetheless — when top-seeded Jefferson Academy scored late in the second half to secure a 1-0 win over the No. 13 seed Skiers in the 3A semifinals, played at All-City Stadium in Denver.
It was believed to have been Aspen’s first semifinal appearance in school history, and would have been its first championship game appearance had a few things gone differently.
For the Jaguars, it was their fourth-straight appearance in the 3A semifinals, but only the second time they’ve advanced to the title game. Jefferson Academy lost to Colorado Academy in the 2015 final.
“Our girls, they had a lot of burden on their shoulders,” said Jefferson Academy coach Denise Sutton. “This was their third time here, so we really wanted to win this. Sometimes that gets into your head.”
Unlike Wednesday, when the Skiers were a nervous wreck early against No. 5 seed Lutheran in the 3A quarterfinals, an eventual 4-3 win, Aspen looked like the better team from the start against the Jaguars. The Skiers controlled possession for most of the first half and despite the zeros on the scoreboard at the break, felt like they were in control.
“Did you see how they came out in the second half, though?” Sutton said of her team. “That was good, so that’s what I’m proud of.”
Jefferson Academy nearly scored in the first minute of the second half thanks to a defensive lapse by the Skiers, but somehow Aspen managed to keep the ball out of the net. The scoreless affair went on for another 20-plus minutes, but with the Jaguars dictating more of the game than the Skiers.
“At the end of the day, we couldn’t score. It looked like it would be a tie after full time,” Gillies said. “We had opportunities in the first half. We should have done it then and it would have been different.”
One of Aspen’s best chances to score came with 30 minutes to play, a perfectly-placed corner kick by senior Chelsea Moore finding the head of freshman Edie Sherlock right in front of the net, only to have the ball sail up and over the crossbar.
Jefferson Academy’s game winner came with a touch over 16 minutes to play. The AHS defense found itself out of position after a free kick took a few unfortunate bounces for the Skiers, and Jaguar junior Kristen Capan was there to knock it in.
A key to keeping Aspen off the scoreboard was Jefferson Academy’s ability to contain AHS freshman Kelley Francis in the second half. Francis, who broke the school’s single-season scoring record with her four-goal performance against Lutheran, was mostly held in check after halftime.
“I don’t know that we did anything different, honestly,” Sutton said of slowing down Francis. “We didn’t change anything on her. We just kept an eye on her and kept her marked. She’s a fantastic player.”
Jefferson Academy (15-2-1 overall) now finds itself in Tuesday’s 3A championship game against No. 3 seed Kent Denver at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. The Sun Devils beat No. 2 Colorado Academy in the second semifinal on Saturday at All-City Stadium, winning 1-0. The Jaguars have never won the state title, while Kent Denver is searching for its sixth, its last coming in 2016.
Aspen finishes the season 14-4 overall and will undoubtedly go down as one of the best teams in the program’s history.
“They’ll feel a little bit cheated,” Gillies said of what could have been. “But the girls should be proud of what they’ve achieved. … I don’t think anyone underestimates what a great achievement it is.”
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The Aspen High School girls soccer team looks a lot different from the last time it played, with many new players and a new coaching staff. But winning has become part of the culture, and it’s so far, so good for the Skiers this spring.