“Sometimes, hard work and playing with tenacity, grit and as a family, pays off”
by Than Acuff
It all started at midnight on Sunday, August 12 with Midnight Madness and military crawls, and finished on Saturday, November 10 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park as the Crested Butte Titans soccer team won the 2A state title 1-0 in overtime. It is the first state title for the soccer program and the second state title for Crested Butte Community School athletics.
The Titans finished the regular season 12-1-2, racking up close to 60 goals while giving up just over 10 all season. But all of that pales in comparison to their post-season run.
After such a successful regular season, the Titans earned the number-one seed in the state tournament and knocked off Ft. Collins school Heritage Christian 5-2 in the quarterfinals and edged out a 2-1 win over Denver Christian in the semis. The Titans came back from one-goal deficits in both games to win, including a dramatic game-winning goal in the final three minutes of the semifinal game.
But, again, that was all just part of the buildup for the finals, where they would meet the Telluride Miners. Telluride had an equally dramatic run in the post-season, beating both Dawson and Fountain Valley in overtime to punch their ticket to the championship game.
“It was very impressive,” says senior captain Tommy Linehan. “It showed how hard they work, how much they hustle and two overtime wins shows how they’re going to keep going.”
The Titans team boarded the bus Friday morning with Captain Bill Kastning at the wheel bound for Denver, taking time that afternoon for a quick practice and attending the 5A championship game Friday night.
“It was incredible going to that game and hard to believe that we were going to play there the next day,” says Linehan.
Following the game, the team convened for a team dinner and retired to their rooms for the night on the eve of the biggest game of their high school sports careers.
“I feel like dinner definitely loosened everybody up and once we got back to the hotel everyone went to bed,” says senior captain Slater Weil. “It was pretty relaxed and allowed everyone to get their head into the zone the next day.”
Morning came and breakfast was served but the question remained: What should the team do with three hours of downtime after breakfast and before arriving at the stadium? But coach Ethan Scott had a plan and, unbeknownst to the players, the coaches and Kastning took them for a little miniature golf outing.
“We were excited,” says Linehan. “The bus ride there was quiet and everyone seemed nervous. It relaxed us and by the time we came back to the bus we were relaxed and ready.”
Time “backstage” at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park was spent milling through the hallways, juggling practice in the locker room and sitting on the rail at the end line of the field watching the 3A title game. Then the team retired back to the locker room and senior Jovany Aguirre gathered them together to share some words of inspiration.
“I loved it, it was so good,” says Weil. “I feel like that is when the focus shifted. His speech made it real.”
The pomp and circumstance rivaled that of a premier league match as the two teams lined up in the “tunnel” as the officials welcomed them to the experience and then paraded the two teams onto the field for introductions and the national anthem, sung by CBCS student Willa Emmitt.
Twelve weeks of workouts, including 17 games, all came to a head at 4 p.m. as the two teams kicked off for the 2A championship match with a raucous and sizeable Crested Butte crowd in the stands.
“Walking out of the tunnel and looking over, seeing the fans, was the coolest thing,” says Weil. “Their noise level was out the wazoo and it definitely hyped up the team.”
Ironically, just prior to the kick-off, Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” came over the loudspeaker and the words “We come from the land of ice and snow” rang true, capturing the fact that two ski-town teams had crashed the Front Range party.
What ensued was everything anyone could hope for as the two teams were embroiled in a back-and-forth battle. The efforts of the back line of senior Zane Reda, junior captain Owen Berv and junior Finn Smith did their best to hold off Telluride’s three talented strikers, with senior captain goalkeeper Slater Weil making a couple of big saves to keep the game even.
“I think that was Zane’s best game I’ve ever seem him play and all three of them were amazing,” says Weil. “It seemed like they always covered for each other and it was phenomenal to have them back there.”
Meanwhile, Linehan, sophomore Nathan Miller and juniors Kye Matlock and Carlos Franco looked to run the midfield looking for gaps wide as Aguirre and juniors Chris Myers, Josias Navarrete and Henry Bryndal all shifted in and out of the game to keep legs fresh on the flanks. When the outside was shut off, sophomore Gaby Marmolejo and junior Dagan Schwartz battled relentlessly at striker to find seams in Telluride’s stout back line.
“It definitely was a little tougher but not as hard as I thought it would be,” says Marmolejo. “We definitely found some plays through them.”
As the sun set, the temperature dropped and the stadium lights came on, making for the ultimate title game experience. The team got a boost midway through the first half as senior Tate Young, who had missed the entire state run with an injury, stepped onto the field to help set the tone in the middle, winning the ball out of the air and tracking down Telluride’s attack to break it up from behind.
“It gave the team a lot of trust because he’s such a force and gave us some energy because he plays with such high energy,” says Linehan.
The halftime whistle sounded and while both teams had their chances, both keepers proved on point and the two teams remained deadlocked in a scoreless draw.
“We played well in the first half but I felt like at times we were hesitant and other times rushed,” says Linehan. “The hustle was there.”
Both teams picked up their game and their effort for the second half. The Titans created a handful of chances and pressed into the attacking third but Telluride’s goalie tipped shots over the bar or wide. Telluride came desperately close on two specific occasions as well but Weil was there with the save and the final whistle sounded, forcing the game into sudden death overtime.
“There was a lot of excitement, we realized that moment is what you live for,” says Linehan. “We all knew we had a good chance to win and had so many chances that deep down, we believed we were going to win that game.”
Who would have the advantage in overtime was anyone’s guess. Telluride had just rattled off two overtime wins in the past two weeks to get to the final but Crested Butte had also come back in their state games. It had the feel that it would come down to a slip on defense or a set play to determine the final outcome.
The latter proved the difference as Schwartz slipped through the Telluride defense and on to a pass up field. Telluride’s center back sprinted over to challenge the ball and cleaned Schwartz off of his feet in the process. While the official saw nothing of note in the effort, a flagrant elbow to Schwartz’ head by a passing Telluride player caught the attention of the sideline official, a whistle was blown and Crested Butte was awarded a free kick just outside the penalty area.
Linehan, Miller, Matlock and Marmolejo convened at the site of the foul to discuss a plan as Telluride set up their four-man wall and marked up players in the penalty area.
“Kye was trying to tell me to do the same thing we did at the homecoming game against them and I told him not to touch it, just pretend to kick it,” says Marmolejo.
The whistle sounded to restart play, Matlock ran a “dummy” run over the ball faking the initial kick and Marmolejo followed, curling his shot into the upper right corner for the game-winning goal.
“It was what I planned,” says Marmolejo. “I thought it would be an easier shot than going over the wall and the right side looked open.”
Bedlam ensued as players poured onto the field to celebrate and then run over to the fans to share the moment with everyone.
“It all blurs together,” says Weil. “Once the ball hit the back of the net it was euphoric. It was the coolest thing ever with the fans going wild but it was surreal. It took me until today to realize what we had done.”
“It was the perfect way to end a great season,” adds Linehan. “As a senior there’s no better way to end it. It was great for the town, the community as well as the team.”
Coach Than Acuff was doused with the cooler of water, Marmolejo was doused with the cooler of Gatorade and the team gathered for the announcement over the loudspeaker stating that the Crested Butte Titans were the 2018 2A state champions.
Coaches Bob Piccaro and Scott captured the season best.
“Sometimes, hard work and playing with tenacity and grit, as a family, pays off,” says Piccaro.
“This was a special group,” adds Scott. “They always had a belief in themselves that, even when they were down, they would find a way back into the game. We were a team in the truest sense, from the coaches down to the players. There was a passion and love for playing soccer for one another that made these boys the state champs.”
The Titans invite everyone onto Elk Avenue on Friday, November 16 at 4 p.m. for a parade, as they want to share the celebration with the entire community.