First time in 20+ years
by Than Acuff
It had been 21 years since the Crested Butte coed adult soccer team last won in Grand Junction but it was worth the wait as the Kickers won four games in a row—including the finals in a penalty kick shootout—to take the Hotter than Hell tournament title.
It didn’t hurt that they had Tom Lewis, a striker from England now doing time in Crested Butte as the local soccer club program director, who was virtually unstoppable, netting 13 goals over four games. It also didn’t hurt to have Irishman Patrick Buggy in net who, despite his age, proved just as agile as he was when he was playing in net for Manchester United in the 1970s before a horrific leg break ended his professional career far too early.
Then there’s Brian Fenerty, a 50-something Irish Philadelphian who has been playing soccer for Crested Butte for 30 years and has missed maybe one tournament the entire time.
That’s some serious pedigree.
Throw in locally raised former high school standout Prawit Durgan, CU club soccer player JJ (Jota Jota) O’Neal, Texas leaguer Cole Britton, who spent his youth battling it out on the pitch with current U.S. national team member Clint Dempsey, WSCU grad and Midwestern soccer prodigy Ryan Abbott and the men’s side of things was tight.
Women are a little tougher to come by, though. Elin Binck and Kicker stand-out Dana Shellhorn signed on but that still left three spots open for additional women. The word was sent out to teams across the Western Slope that Crested Butte needed players—and women from Grand Junction and Winter Park stepped into the fray when possible.
Lewis admits that heading into the tournament expectations were somewhat muted with such a rag-tag squad and no subs.
“We weren’t even sure if we’d score, let alone win any games,” admits Lewis.
They laid those concerns to rest in the opening game of the tournament Saturday morning against Grand Junction’s Get Some. The Kickers proceeded to strike early and often, en route to a 9-1 win, the highest goal output of any Kickers team in the history of the club. Lewis netted five goals himself, proving that his days as a potent striker are not over, Britton scored three and a random add on for one game tacked on the ninth.
“We were the first to the ball all game and we gelled,” says Fenerty.
The Kickers returned to the pitch that afternoon to face a Gunnison/Grand Junction combination team, the Inferno. The game proved to be much more challenging than the first match as the two teams were embroiled in a back and forth battle.
The Kickers struck first building a 2-0 lead in the first half off goals from Lewis, including an “absolute cracker” in the side netting from just outside the 18-yard box. The Inferno netted a goal late in the game to make it close but the deal was done as Buggy came up with a couple of big saves and Durgan, O’Neal and Abbott proved too tough in the middle for the Inferno.
“Patrick came up huge, he was sick,” says Fenerty. “We didn’t have any subs but it didn’t matter.”
“We all knew how each other played and what we were looking to do,” adds Lewis. “In the heat and with no subs we knew we needed to score early and then just park the bus.”
While Kickers teams of the past traditionally eliminated any chance at tournament titles by enjoying the tournament party Saturday night, this crew maintained composure to ensure continued success on Sunday and the move paid off.
As they took the field Sunday morning for the semifinals against Winter Park, it was apparent Winter Park spent the previous night celebrating and was a little worse for wear. While down to just nine players total, the Kickers were confident they would be fine if they stuck to their strategy.
“We knew we had to take advantage of them early,” says Fenerty.
The Kickers did as planned, jumping out to an early lead and then spending the remainder of the match on cruise control finishing with a 5-0 shutout. Abbott finished with a hat trick and Lewis scored two more goals to pace the Kickers scoring assault and the team was on to the finals for a rematch with the Inferno.
“They were out for blood,” says Fenerty, “still upset from the loss the day before.”
The Kickers remained focused though and built a 2-0 lead in the first half with Lewis getting both bringing his tournament total to 12 goals in four games.
But, as the game wore on, the Kickers wore down and the Inferno managed to tie the game up and was knocking on the door of victory when time expired. Team captains and refs conferred in the middle to decide whether to go into extra time or penalty kicks and given the heat and exhaustion, the decision was made to decide the winner through penalty kicks. All five Kickers and all five Inferno players scored, leaving it up to the first team to falter. The Kickers’ sixth shooter, another out of town late addition, stepped up and buried her shot top shelf and when Inferno’s sixth shooter hit the crossbar, the Kickers erupted in celebration having won the tournament title.
The team is now in the process of recovering and will then reboot for their home tournament as they host the 23rd annual Crested June 17-18 bringing in 11 teams from throughout Colorado.