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Girls soccer finishes strong to set tone for post-season

Set to host state game Friday, May 11 at 5:30 p.m.

by Than Acuff

It’s on to the next big step for the Crested Butte Titans girls soccer team as they finished the regular season with a record of 10-2-1 and are the fourth-ranked team in the state in 2A, earning a bye in the first round of the state tournament.

Their overall standing hung in the balance as they entered the final weekend of play. While the Titans spent the better part of the season hovering in the top four, a loss to Del Norte last week left them ranked fourth with two games to go. While a spot at the state tournament was guaranteed, finishing top four meant they get a bye in the first round, automatically qualifying for the Great Eight.

Furthermore, the final two games were no cakewalk as they were slated to face 3A programs Pagosa Springs and perennial powerhouse Bayfield. Some teams might relax with the accomplishment of making the tournament, losing steam in the final two games. But the Titans girls are not “some teams,” as they knocked off the Pagosa Springs Pirates 3-0 on Friday, May 4 and then battled to a 2-2 draw with the Bayfield Wolverines.

“We hadn’t really dropped below fourth all season and the girls knew that if we did, we’d have to play the first round of state two days later,” says coach Julia Kidd. “We needed that time to get ready and also they have this goal in mind to get further than the boys ever did in the state tournament so, really, whatever drives them.”

The Titans set the pace in the first 15 minutes of their game against Pagosa, imposing their style of play while feeding off of the near-capacity crowd at Rainbow field. The initial effort set up the Titans in the attacking third but their efforts dissipated as they neared the 18-yard box until the 15th minute, when Maya Chandler took a pass and chipped her shot over the Pagosa keeper into the side netting for a 1-0 lead.

“I think we came out ready and fired up,” says Kidd. “That loss to Del Norte last week kind of worked to motivate them.”

The game then disintegrated into a melee of erratic play from both teams as Pagosa’s hustle made for frantic touches by Crested Butte. Fortunately, the back four of the Titans have always been solid and they turned away every effort by the Pirates to attack, to hold the 1-0 lead heading into halftime.

“I just told them they needed to refocus and bring it back together, and they already know that,” says Kidd. “Get rid of the silly mistakes, make your job easier and play thoughtful soccer, mindful soccer, at speed—not running around like your foot is on fire.”

The Titans reset during the intermission and came out in the second half playing their game and taking control of the game. Pagosa held on as long as they could but the Titans’ effort bore fruit 10 minutes into the second half. Livie Nute proved unmanageable by the Pirates defense down the flank and another attack resulted in a corner kick. Nute took the corner and the ball slipped to Tess Fenerty at the top of the penalty area and she knocked her shot top shelf for a 2-0 lead. Twenty-two minutes later the Titans added to their lead as Karina Davalos cut inside to take a pass and spin it out wide to find Ella Lapello on the run. Lapello cut the ball back inside and drilled her shot into the upper corner for a 3-0 lead. The Titans remained in charge for the final eight minutes to close out the 3-0 shutout.

“Once we got back into our flow, it looked like what I wanted it to look like,” says Kidd. “It was just so great having the support of the Booster Club, the community and people in town out at the game.”

They lined up again at home to face Bayfield on Saturday, May 5. Bayfield has dominated the Titans through the first two seasons of the program’s existence but the new Crested Butte matches well with Bayfield and Kidd has learned a lot about Bayfield’s premier striker.

“The plan was to cover her with everything we had,” says Kidd.

The two teams played even through the first 15 minutes, with each focused on establishing possession and building an attack. The Titans defense led by Siena Truex and Annabelle Faivre in the middle and Sophia Truex and Phaedra Vierling on the flanks had Bayfield’s leading scorer sewn up tight but Crested Butte’s typically strong flank play was shut down by Bayfield’s solid defense.

The Titans got a break 15 minutes into the game as Nute took a corner kick and Bayfield’s attempt at clearing the ball fell right back at Nute’s feet. She drove directly to the near post to fire a low cross and the ball hit off a Bayfield defender’s foot and slipped past their keeper for a 1-0 Titans lead.

Both teams continued to press, trading off attacks, as Bayfield focused on finding their top player open. While the Titans remained organized on defense, one slip-up led to one opening for the Bayfield player and she made the most of it, scoring to tie the game 1-1.

The Titans regained the lead in the 68th minute when Fenerty settled a pass 30 yards out and drove her shot over the Bayfield keeper. The trade-off of attacks continued and while the Titans remained focused on their game plan, one big pass over the top sent the Bayfield striker breaking free and she scored again to tie the game 2-2.

The teams headed into overtime but neither found the game-winning touch since they were both noticeably fatigued, leaving them with a 2-2 draw.

“Our defense really came up big in that game and so did Rachael,” says Kidd. “They all played lights out. I think at the end of the game everyone was just exhausted but they held to it to secure the tie.”

Once games from all around the state were recorded, numbers were crunched and the Titans head into the 2A state tournament ranked fourth. They earned a bye through the first round of state and will host a second-round playoff game at the Gunnison high school field on Friday, May 11 at 5:30 p.m.

“They’re tired so I’m just grateful we have three more days to get healthy,” says Kidd. “I think we got it, we just need to reboot. I’m expecting a high level of soccer and I think these girls can face it.”

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