Titan boys soccer wins second state title

“Hey Titans, have you thought about winning lately?”

[ by Than Acuff ]

The Crested Butte Titans soccer team cruised through the first two rounds of the state tournament and then dug deep to battle hard against the Thomas MacLaren Highlanders in the finals on Saturday, May 1 to win 2-1 and bring home a second 2A state soccer title.

“It feels really good, it’s kind of surreal, just crazy,” says senior captain Gabi Marmolejo, who had the game-winning goal in the championship overtime win two years ago.

It was a fitting end for the shortened season as the Titans finished 10-1-2 with a powerful defense and senior captain goalkeeper Alex Eldridge, who gave up just four goals all year. The Titans also had an explosive attack that accounted for 45 goals total as Marmolejo led the scoring with 11 goals and 14 assists while Jacob Bernholtz led the team with 15 goals.

Crested Butte entered the tournament the number two seed and opened their title run with an 8-0 win over Heritage Christian on Saturday, April 24. Four days later they hosted Dawson at the Western Colorado University turf field and after building a 2-0 lead by halftime, they ramped up their effort to knock in four more goals in the second half sealing a 6-0 win to return to the state finals.

“I think Dawson had some bus lag and that affects a team more than one thinks, and also altitude may have been a factor,” says coach Bob Piccaro. “They had a couple of good players, but overall our squad was a bit better and controlled the game.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the bracket, Thomas MacLaren was busy gaining momentum knocking off both Loveland Classical and Denver Christian to punch their ticket to the finals at Weidner Field in Colorado Springs.

“MacLaren showed that in the playoffs it is a whole new season, and anything can happen and teams can get on a roll and be dangerous,” says Piccaro. “They built confidence with each round and that can be powerful, especially for a team that has ‘nothing to lose’ in terms of its initial seeding and its run through the playoffs. They knew they were good and that is all that it comes down to.”

With the Titans coming off of their April Break, the team was finally back to full strength for the championship game and workouts were focused primarily on rest, recovery and relaxation leading up to the big game. They hit the road Friday morning to get one more workout done upon arriving in Colorado Springs that afternoon getting time on a field for some fine tuning.

“We split up into two teams for some competitive games,” says Miller. “It was mostly for fun, but it also got us into a competitive spirit.”

“Hey Titans, have you thought about winning lately?”
by Than Acuff

The Crested Butte Titans soccer team cruised through the first two rounds of the state tournament and then dug deep to battle hard against the Thomas MacLaren Highlanders in the finals on Saturday, May 1 to win 2-1 and bring home a second 2A state soccer title.

“It feels really good, it’s kind of surreal, just crazy,” says senior captain Gabi Marmolejo, who had the game-winning goal in the championship overtime win two years ago.

It was a fitting end for the shortened season as the Titans finished 10-1-2 with a powerful defense and senior captain goalkeeper Alex Eldridge, who gave up just four goals all year. The Titans also had an explosive attack that accounted for 45 goals total as Marmolejo led the scoring with 11 goals and 14 assists while Jacob Bernholtz led the team with 15 goals.

Crested Butte entered the tournament the number two seed and opened their title run with an 8-0 win over Heritage Christian on Saturday, April 24. Four days later they hosted Dawson at the Western Colorado University turf field and after building a 2-0 lead by halftime, they ramped up their effort to knock in four more goals in the second half sealing a 6-0 win to return to the state finals.

“I think Dawson had some bus lag and that affects a team more than one thinks, and also altitude may have been a factor,” says coach Bob Piccaro. “They had a couple of good players, but overall our squad was a bit better and controlled the game.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the bracket, Thomas MacLaren was busy gaining momentum knocking off both Loveland Classical and Denver Christian to punch their ticket to the finals at Weidner Field in Colorado Springs.

“MacLaren showed that in the playoffs it is a whole new season, and anything can happen and teams can get on a roll and be dangerous,” says Piccaro. “They built confidence with each round and that can be powerful, especially for a team that has ‘nothing to lose’ in terms of its initial seeding and its run through the playoffs. They knew they were good and that is all that it comes down to.”

With the Titans coming off of their April Break, the team was finally back to full strength for the championship game and workouts were focused primarily on rest, recovery and relaxation leading up to the big game. They hit the road Friday morning to get one more workout done upon arriving in Colorado Springs that afternoon getting time on a field that afternoon for some fine tuning.

“We split up into two teams for some competitive games,” says Miller. “It was mostly for fun, but it also got us into a competitive spirit.”

They also had notes for them from first graders and kindergarteners with one message in particular that helped zero in the team’s focus.

“Hey Titans, have you thought about winning lately?” was all it said.

Ten minutes before kick off the two teams lined up in the hallway for the official “walk out” and when the stadium speakers opened up with the pre-game music, complete with bone-shaking subwoofers, the sound reverberated through the foundation of the entire venue.

“That was intense for sure, especially standing in the hallway next to MacLaren,” says Miller. “You could just feel the energy build as the music did. It was an incredible feeling.”

Once the game started, it was apparent Crested Butte was looking to establish a quick-passing, possession-based style of play but nerves dominated the game as passes were off target and players hesitant to make decisions. The Titans settled down to find success down the flanks but MacLaren’s team defense turned away the first couple of chances and their goaltender stood on his head in net to deny several chances in close.

“We were a little nervous and trying to figure things out, get into a groove and get rid of the nerves,” says Marmolejo.
Crested Butte’s back line of Eric Lain, Rowan McIntyre and Otto Billingsley was equally stout; they had only given up three goals all season, and MacLaren struggled to create any significant attacks on the Titan net as senior captain Nathan Miller and attacking midfielder Jamis Matlock disrupted MacLaren’s counterattacks while Eldridge scooped up the few balls that got through.

“There was no panic or doubts,” says Marmolejo. “A lot of the guys just stayed composed and ready to do whatever to win.”

Crested Butte finally broke the seal on the MacLaren net 26 minutes into the game when Marmolejo, fresh off winning the Prom King crown the night before, turned on a throw in to drive the ball into the 18-yard box and Blue Gardner slipped behind a MacLaren defender for a diving header into the back of the net.

“Before the throw in I took a look to see if anyone was in the 18 and I saw there were two in there so once I beat their one defender I just put the ball in there,” says Marmolejo. “I think that is when the nerves really left.”

Crested Butte maintained their slim lead into halftime and the team returned to the field to build on their momentum in the second half just like they had the entire post season.

But, MacLaren had other plans and a shift in their strategy temporarily turned the momentum in their favor. While they spent most of the first half sitting back on defense, they stepped up their pressure at the start of the second half.

Their effort paid off nine minutes into the second half when they connected on a head ball in front of the Titans’ net to tie the game 1-1.

Crested Butte looked to respond on the ensuing kick off as a quick ball up field opened up a shot on net but the ball pinged off the post and the follow up attempt soared over the net. Crested Butte had two more golden chances close in but missed the mark on both and as time was running out, things were getting especially nervy for Crested Butte.

“We all knew we couldn’t let it go to overtime and we were pretty gassed but I don’t think anyone was panicked,” says Marmolejo.
Eventually the Titans found their finishing touch once again as Marmolejo took a pass wide and carried it to the end line drawing two MacLaren players. Marmolejo slipped past both defenders and laid a ball into the top of the six-yard box to Jacob Bernholtz who tucked it into the bottom corner for a 2-1 lead with six minutes left in regulation.

“That was huge,” says Miller. “We’d been knocking on the door so I feel like we were confident but as soon as we scored we could breathe a little more.”

MacLaren then pressed for the final six minutes but a punching clear from Eldridge and the scrambling defense of the Titans team held on through the final ticks of the clock and Crested Butte sealed their second title in three years.

“We were able to compete under pressure and excel,” says Marmolejo.

“Being a senior and a captain, this year is a little more meaningful for me,” says Miller.

“It shows that our program and the feeder program leading into high school soccer are doing something right,” adds Piccaro. “Kids are coming in knowing the expectations and soon learn of the dedication and hard work required, if they did not already. Once this culture is created, then the bar keeps rising and kids will meet it. It is a healthy competitive atmosphere where the players want to achieve success.”

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