Francis, Curley rally Skiers soccer past Vail Mountain in dramatic comeback win
There was a certain spunk to the Aspen High School girls soccer team last spring when it made a surprising run to the Class 3A state semifinals as a mere 13 seed.
Early on this season, despite a preseason No. 4 ranking, that same moxie just hasn’t been there. At least, it wasn’t until the second half of Saturday’s game against visiting Vail Mountain School, where the Skiers pulled out a near miraculous 4-3 comeback victory they hope will allow them to regain that championship form.
“These girls put their heart out on the field today and they showed who they really were,” AHS assistant Michele Gray said. “After the game, they talked and they said this is who they are. So I think we found our pace and I think we found our heart today.”
Playing without key defenders Margo McHugh and Jasmin Hanson, and known for having a tendency to start games slowly, the Skiers were a mess early, falling into a 3-0 deficit to a team they had beaten as recently as Tuesday, a 4-2 non-league win in Vail. A goal by sophomore Kelley Francis late in the first half got things going in the other direction.
“Being down 3-0 was kind of scary, especially since we played so well against Vail earlier this week,” sophomore midfielder Grace Romero said. “We all thought coming into it that we had it in the bag. We came out maybe a little cocky. But once the next goal was scored, we got our momentum back.”
A header by AHS senior Clara Maxwell made it 3-2 midway through the second half. Suddenly down only a goal, Aspen could feel those magic powers from last year’s playoff run begin to return.
Still, the Skiers needed every second of regulation to finish their comeback. As the clock was ticking away in stoppage time, AHS goalie Ella Trane delivered a long ball back into play, which the speedy Francis reined in and found a way past her defender to put the game-tying goal home.
“Just as we planned. Entertain the crowd. We are doing our best to try and fill the stadiums up,” AHS head coach John Gillies joked. “This is the last year of this turf. We don’t want to get beat on it.”
About five minutes into the first overtime period, Aspen put the game to rest with a goal by junior Payton Curley into the right corner of the net, set up by a soft touch pass from Francis. There was a bit of pandemonium from the players and a collective exhale from the coaching staff in what was a playoff-esque performance.
“All of us before the game, we were really focused on pulling together as a team, using good communication,” Romero said, “so I think what we had to do was get our heads the second half and it showed and we did it and we played until the very end.”
The win keeps Aspen undefeated since spring break. The Skiers, currently No. 9 in 3A, are 5-2 overall and 2-0 in league play. Roughly midway through the season, the comeback victory over the Gore Rangers (5-4, 1-2) will likely be seen as season defining by the time all games have been played.
“I’m glad it happened, because it showed character. These girls now know we’ve got fight. They can fight,” Gillies said, not being able to resist one final joke. “Everything came to plan. We knew what we had to do to get the best out of these girls.”
Next up for Aspen is a trip Thursday to its main downvalley rival, the first of two contests Aspen and Basalt will play this season. The Longhorns, led by first-year coach Kate McBride, earned their first win of the season on Saturday by beating Roaring Fork, 3-0. BHS (1-3, 1-1) will first host VMS on Tuesday.
Of the 10 players listed on the varsity roster ahead of Tuesday’s home game with Summit, two were juniors, seven were sophomores and one was a freshman. It’s a far cry from the class of 10 seniors who last season led the Skiers to a perfect 27-0 mark and the Class 3A state championship.