Saturday, May 30, 2020

Titans soccer falls in first round of state tournament

Vail Mountain proves too much for Crested Butte

by Than Acuff

The Crested Butte Titans soccer season came to a close on Friday, October 30, losing to the Vail Mountain Gore Rangers 3-0 in the opening round of the 3A state tournament.

The result came as no surprise really, as the Titans entered the state tournament seeded 29th, while Vail Mountain is the fourth-ranked team in the tournament. Still, hopes remained high as the Titans prepared the week leading up to the big game.

Part of the preparation included minor shifts in the Titans formation. The Gore Rangers have three quality finishers on their team and the Titans wanted to make sure they were tight on defense and would then build a counterattack off of that.

“There was a lot of confidence throughout the team,” says coach Ben Davis. “Spirits were high and we did some fine tuning, worked on set plays, defense, and did some work on shooting.”

While on paper and in practice everything looked tight, it doesn’t make a difference until game day when the Titans needed to execute. The first 10 minutes of the game were a mess as it was obvious the Gore Rangers were a legitimate force and the Titans were legitimately nervous. Fortunately, pure grit and determination would hold off the initial Gore Rangers onslaught.

Thomas Taaca anchored the defense to keep anyone from breaking through. Noah Dumas and Alden Watkins worked hard to pick off the Gore Rangers midfield attack and the Titans scrambled to break up shots, while Josh Pruett made the necessary saves in net.

“There were a lot of nerves, you could just see it. Passes were off target” says Davis. “Defensively, Josh took on a complete barrage of shots.”

The Titans recovered, albeit slightly, to build a couple of counterattacks with midfielders Patrick Seifert, Justin Smith, Merlin Mapes and Gus Hensley finding room between Vail Mountain’s midfield and defense, but Vail Mountain continued to pin the Titans in their defensive third and the pressure eventually paid off as the Gore Rangers scored 20 minutes into the game.

“As soon as that went in our players picked it up a bit,” explains Davis. “We were playing a really good team but we were starting to hold our own.”

The Titans continued to hold off the attack throughout the first half and escaped the opening 40 minutes down just 1-0 and hoped to adjust their play to make a run at the Gore Rangers.

Unfortunately, the Titans suffered a couple of big blows in the opening 10 minutes of the second half. Watkins was sidelined with a pulled hamstring and striker Axel Deer had to leave the game with an injury after a collision. Meanwhile, Vail Mountain picked up their game considerably, bringing a much more organized attack on the Titans.

The combination opened up numerous opportunities for Vail Mountain and while Pruett continued to stand on his head in net and both Dylan Eaton and Nate Hoskin closed off the flanks, the Gore Rangers did break through for two more goals. The Titans did counter on a couple of occasions but corner kicks resulted in missed opportunities and the final touch to set-up shots were turned away by the Vail Mountain defense, sealing the Titans’ fate with a 3-0 loss.

“Their heart and soul were definitely into the game,” says Davis. “At no point did I ever see them stop. They pushed until the final whistle blew. They definitely gave everything they had.”

The Titans finished the season 7-5 in league play and 7-7 overall but look forward to a bright future. While they will lose several key seniors from starting roles, a majority of the starting line-up returns and several underclassmen are ready to move into their spots on the varsity squad.

“I think the team in the future will be solid,” says Davis. “We’re losing some speed in the back but we’ve got a very strong freshmen and sophomore class and I think we’re going to pick up right where we left off. It’s an exciting future.”

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