So much for “rebuilding”
By Than Acuff
It was a post-season run like no other.
After cruising through the first round, the Crested Butte Titans boys’ soccer team won the quarterfinals in double overtime, played a man down for most of the second half and two overtime periods to win the semifinal in a shootout, and then reshuffled the deck of their line up and called on players to step into the hot seat and edged out a 1-0 win over Bishop Machebeuf in the finals on Saturday, November 11 in Colorado Springs. Throughout it all, the Titans gave up just two goals over the four-game stretch proving once again that defense wins titles.
While Denver Christian’s style of soccer proved a troublesome task for the Titans in the semifinals, Bishop was an entirely new puzzle for Crested Butte.
“We knew that they were a super talented team deeply committed to possessing out of the back,” says coach Bradley Davies.
As a result, the Titans returned to the drawing board to make some minor adjustments to their typical game plan. Not only that, but with one key starter missing the final, personnel were shuffled in their line up and players were called upon to step into new roles for the biggest game of the season.
“After a multiple hour meeting of the coaches in the barber shop, we developed a game plan and then set to planning what we needed to do throughout the week to ensure our Titans were as prepared as possible,” says Davies. “The boys picked up some pretty complex tactics in a short time. It was super impressive.”
Remarkably, the young Titans team took to the new plan and executed it near flawlessly through the first half. The entire team remained patient on defense allowing Bishop to move the ball when it mattered least and then picking the right moment to step up and pressure as a team when it mattered most.
Bishop is a quality squad though and they still found some opportunities to slip through for chances on net, but opportunities were either chased down by Rocco Billingsley and Will Harpel on the flanks, shut down by centerbacks Jordan Silva and Archer Bernholtz or calmly collected or deflected clear of the frame by goalie Joseph Sudderth.
Meanwhile, the midfield trio of Shawn Moran, Marin Gardner and Beckett Kidd had their hands full against the Bishop midfield trio but made the needed tackles when necessary and held tight to keep passing lanes clogged.
Crested Butte got a scare midway through the first half when Silva suffered an injury that forced him from the game. Yet, like clockwork, the Titans were prepared as Harpel slid back into the middle and Cy Buckel was called into action outside to help maintain Crested Butte’s defensive shape.
The only lacking element to the Titans’ plan in the first half was finding space to counterattack up the field. Sawyer Barney, Eli Hulm and Joe Syson rotated through the flank positions to bring width to the attack while lone striker Kai Greene was left to battle for the ball against Bishop’s back four. Will Lain, who played the season on defense before getting hurt, was asked to give the team key minutes up top as a striker as well but the connection between defending and counterattacking still lacked cohesion.
While Bishop did dominate possession throughout the first half, the Titans’ patience on team defense was the difference in leaving the two teams locked in a 0-0 tie at halftime.
“The first half played out exactly how we had planned, barring a few uncontested bangers from Bishop early on of course,” says coach Matt Wilson. “They had their chances, but the majority of those chances came from well beyond the 18, and that was fully by design. Force shots from distance where we knew our goalkeeper Joseph Sudderth had the advantage.”
The discussion at halftime was less tactical and more motivational as a call to action was laid out for the Titans. After spending a half defending, it was time to turn the game up a notch and take control of the second half of play.
“I felt we were being a little timid,” says senior captain Kai Greene. “We were more just testing out our tactics, but I knew we needed to step up the intensity.”
“When the boys realized at halftime that they could hang with this front range juggernaut, that’s when the gloves came off,” adds Wilson. “We all knew it was time to drop the hammer in the second half and show Bishop Machebeuf exactly what Crested Butte soccer is all about.”
The players answered the call and while Bishop looked to continue their possession style, additional pressure in the middle of the field by Moran, Gardner and Kidd soon opened the game for Crested Butte.
The difference came 15 minutes into the second half when Gardner picked off a Bishop pass and turned to fire a long diagonal cross to Barney on the weakside. Barney collected the pass, cut back against two Bishop defenders to open a shot, and fired the ball into the bottom left corner for a 1-0 lead.
Bishop moved players around looking to create a more dynamic attack, but the Titans remained focused on their plan for the remaining 25 minutes of regulation. Magnus Sandusky came into the game at striker as Greene needed attention from the trainer and maintained the intensity up top. Sudderth came up with a couple more big saves down the stretch and the defense cleared the ball of harm’s way ultimately sealing the 1-0 win and the 2A state title.
“It was the preparation and execution that got us the win,” says Wilson. “We formulated a gameplan that the boys ran with and executed to perfection. These boys are such a young side overall but possess the most mature and composed mindset I’ve ever seen. They won that game because everyone played for each other and didn’t care who got the credit.”
“I’m so lost for words,” says Greene. “The amount of excitement I have is crazy. I’ve never felt this way before. When I work and land a trick on skis it feels so good, but this feeling is 10 times better than that. This group of boys was different than any other squad I’ve ever played with. The chemistry was great and everybody had fun. There was no drama, we were all in it together.”
The Titans finished the “rebuilding” season with a record of 14-2-3, winning the league and 2A state title. Moran led the team in scoring with 16 goals and six assists followed by Greene with nine goals while Sudderth’s stats in net have him near the top of all 2A goalies.
“The reality is that our team just kept getting better and better,” says Davies. “Little by little we kept teaching more and more and they just kept gobbling up everything we threw at them. Add to it a toughness our town would be proud of and a consistently positive energy present each and every day, and this group really proved to be special.”
“This season was extremely rewarding for a multitude of reasons,” says Wilson. “Nothing was ever handed to this team. They had to earn it by working hard and playing for each other.”