Heading into state tournament ranked second
by Than Acuff
The season ended with a bit of a whimper for the Crested Butte Titans boys’ soccer team as they finished the regular season with a 1-1 draw against Telluride on Saturday, October 26. The tie did earn the Titans their second league title in a row, left them with a record of 10-3-2 and they are now headed into the state tournament as the second seed.
The team took the week of the October break off from workouts as the coaches opted to use it as an opportunity for the players to rest and recharge. When they returned to practices, effort was there but coach Bob Piccaro saw something was missing.
“It showed during our practices how a week off causes some rust,” says Piccaro. “They were off a beat.”
In addition, questions swirled about game readiness and fitness with a couple of injuries still lingering. That left a somewhat depleted Titans team to face a surging Telluride squad, which was coming into the match on a big roll to put them in a position for the league title.
Play by the Titans was lethargic and disjointed to open the game, while Telluride was determined to set the tone with heavy pressure and quick play. Crested Butte’s backline did their job to hold off the Telluride attack while the Titan midfield and strikers struggled to connect. The Titans got hit with another setback when they lost one of the central midfielders to injury six minutes into the game, leaving them short another key cog in the attack.
Gabi Marmolejo returned to play after a four-week injury hiatus and moved between the midfield and strikers looking to spark the team and both Kye Matlock and Nathan Miller picked up their play in the middle to bring the game back under control. Meanwhile, goalie Alex Eldridge came up with a couple of key saves, as did the defense, clearing the ball off of the goal line twice during one particular frenzy.
“That was enormous,” says Piccaro. “We preach positioning and everyone has a role at all times and have always taught our weak-side defense to cover when our goalie goes out. If they’d scored, the game could have been much different.”
The uptick in Crested Butte’s play bore fruit in the 36th minute when Davis McNeill stripped the ball off a Telluride defender and sprinted up field. McNeill fought off two Telluride defenders to gain a step and blasted a shot for 20 yards out that banged off the bottom of the crossbar and into the net for a 1-0 Titans’ lead at halftime.
“Nothing much was clicking and then all of a sudden in one fell swoop we got a goal and they got their momentum back for halftime,” says Piccaro.
Similar play ensued in the second half with both teams falling back to pure hustle and chaos as their subsequent game plans. Both defenses held tight, as did the goalies but a handball in the box gave Telluride a penalty kick 60 minutes into the game. They converted on it to tie the game and the two remained locked in a 1-1 draw forcing the game into overtime.
“I was wondering about our team’s mettle,” says Piccaro.
Neither team exuded any domination during both periods of overtime but in the final minute Crested Butte earned an indirect kick inside the 18-yard box. The play was set up for success until the final touch as the shot flew high of the crossbar and the teams were left with a draw to close out their regular seasons.
“They responded well and I think the best 20 minutes of our game was in overtime,” says Piccaro. “We just had trouble finishing. We got lucky really. It could have been worse but it was better than a loss.”
Results from all over the state trickled in throughout the weekend and on Monday, October 28, the Titans found out they are the number two seed at the 2A state tournament earning a bye through the first round.
“They need to believe in themselves and all of them need to raise every aspect of their game one more notch,” says Piccaro. “You have to be all in, believe in the process and you need the ball to bounce the right way. A little luck never hurt anyone.”
Due to current weather patterns, they will not be able to play until Wednesday, November 6 when they will host the winner of the first round game between Ridgway and the Lotus School for Excellence at the Gunnison High School field, time to be announced.