“They just love soccer, love competing and love playing, it’s the right mix”
by Than Acuff
Just three years into the Crested Butte Titans girls soccer team’s existence, they made it all the way to the 2A state tournament semifinals before losing 3-0 last week, putting an end to what has been an incredible season.
When the season started for the Titans back in late February, snow covered the local fields and the team spent the early days of pre-season shuffling between gyms and the occasional trip to Gunnison for workouts on grass. Fortunately, a low snow year meant the team was able to start outdoor workouts in Crested Butte sooner rather than later and they opened the season winning four of their first five games.
“I vividly remember thinking, this is going to be a good season,” says coach Julia Kidd. “From day one I think I knew it could be a different season.”
Yet it wasn’t until their second game against Ridgway that Kidd and assistant coach Alexis Charles realized they really had something special going on this season.
“I kept wondering, are we just lucky?” explains Kidd. “But after that second game against Ridgway we said to the kids, ‘We’re legit.’”
They continued their winning ways, eventually closing out the regular season with a record of 11-2-1, winning the Region Four league title and headed into the 2A state tournament the fourth-ranked team in the state led by a stout defense and great goalkeeping as the Titans gave up just nine goals through 14 games.
“Solid goalkeeping is huge but we also learned to utilize our midfield better,” says Kidd. “We had strong flanks with Murphy and Livie and Tess in the middle, and improving our transitions from defense to offense really helped.”
Their success set them up for their next major challenge, the state tournament. Finishing the season ranked fourth meant they got a bye in the first round of the tournament, giving them a much-needed rest as they prepared for their quarterfinal match against Front Range Christian. Ten minutes into that game, Kidd and Charles both sensed they could win and the team did too. A Titan goal 60 minutes into the game made the difference and they were on to the semifinals.
“Beating Front Range Christian was a really big deal,” says Kidd. “It showed me that we’re not a fluke and that we actually belonged there.”
Their semifinal opponent, Dawson, was a whole new challenge, though. Dawson fell in the finals of the 2A state tournament the previous season, and were back in the mix once again. As the Titans prepared for the game against the perennial state powerhouse set for Wednesday, May 16 in Denver, the team remained relaxed, while Kidd was inundated with information about Dawson from Titan fans.
“We were watching them and I had grandparents sending me videos of them,” says Kidd. “I don’t think the players understood what it meant, though. They just thought of it as another game and meant they could just keep playing. I think they went into it with the right attitude.”
The quarterfinal win five days earlier, though, did come with a price as the Titans lost starting center back Siena Truex to a concussion. Fortunately, sister Sophia Truex slipped from the outside into the middle to join Anabelle Faivre, while Phaedra Vierling remained on the other flank and Sydney Stoneberg filled the spot for Sophia.
“Losing Siena was a big deal but we have some depth in the back, which is nice,” says Kidd. “In general, the entire team felt comfortable with the back line.”
The teams took to the field under hot conditions, at least hot for Crested Butte players, and battled back and forth through the opening 10 minutes before Dawson scored to take a 1-0 lead. But rather than fold, the Titans continued to battle with goalie Rachel Potoker coming up with several big saves and the Titans threatening to score on a couple of occasions to finish the first half down just 1-0.
“Rachel saved us. She had some amazing saves,” says Kidd.
Dawson scored again 10 minutes into the second half and then tacked on a third goal seven minutes later and held off the Titans for the 3-0 win.
“When you’re down 1-0 or 2-0 you think, we can still fight back,” says Kidd. “When it was 3-0 I was like, okay. But the girls never lost their fight and I have no shame in how we played. Every one of Dawson’s players had skills that we had not seen yet and it just showed us another level we want to get to and I think we can get there.”
Finishing the season 12-3-1 with a showing in the semifinals set a new bar for the Titans girls program, one that Kidd feels they can continue to build on, as all but one player will return next season.
“They’re a fierce little team, perfect alchemy,” says Kidd. “They just love soccer, love competing and love playing, it’s the right mix. I’m totally impressed with all of them and the future is bright. We have a strong base, are building tradition and the kids know what to expect and are even hungrier.”