Titans soccer rolls to 2A state semifinals

Face Flatirons Academy Saturday in Denver

By Than Acuff

After outscoring their opponents 13-0 through the first two rounds of the 2A girls state soccer tournament last weekend, the Crested Butte Titans are headed to the semifinals to face Flatirons Academy on Saturday, May 18 at All-City Stadium in Denver at 12 p.m.

The Titans entered the tournament the fourth seed and hosted the first round and the quarterfinal round at Katy O. Rady Field on the Western Colorado University campus starting with the Rocky Mountain Lutheran Eagles on Friday, May 10.

The Eagles came in as the 13th seed with a striker that had racked up 28 goals throughout the season, so preparation was somewhat focused on shutting her down. What the Titans found though was Rocky Mountain Lutheran opted for a different look for the game. 

“They ended up putting her back at centerback,” says head coach Tom Lewis. “They came to park the bus with her at the back, which made them more solid defensively.”

The Titans came out pushing the pace in the opening 10 minutes, but Rocky Mountain Lutheran’s defense held off the initial attack with their keeper making a couple early saves.

Crested Butte broke the seal on the Eagles’ net 16 minutes into the game when Leigh Harpel dropped a direct kick from 40 yards out into the six-yard box. The Eagles’ keeper mishandled the ball and Nora Thomes poked it in for a 1-0 lead.

The hope was the first strike could then open more scoring for the Titans but Rocky Mountain Lutheran’s high defensive line and the speed and strength of their centerback handcuffed the Titans, holding them to the slim one-goal lead at halftime.

“At halftime we talked about getting our wingers more involved in the build out and trying to pull their centerback out and play combinations down the middle on attack,” explains Lewis.

The adjustments paid off six minutes into the second half when Harpel and Thomes combined for a quick one-two pass down the middle and Harpel buried her shot in the upper corner for a 2-0 lead. Two minutes later, winger Calla Fenlon broke free on a through ball and the Eagles’ keeper came out to challenge taking Fenlon out of the play and earning the Titans a penalty kick. Fenlon did the honors to score the penalty kick for a 3-0 lead.

Ten minutes later Thomes dished the ball off to Harpel for Harpel’s second goal of the game and after another 10 minutes of play, the Titans struck again as Molly Miller beat her defender one-on-one to score for a 5-0 lead. Three minutes later Miller struck again and then Thea Barney took the ball down the flank to cross it into the six-yard box for Brie Polster to volley it home for a 7-0 Titans lead. Miller would eventually complete her hat trick in the final five minutes to cap the 8-0 Titans win. Titan goalie Bryce Haskell finished with the shutout as the Titans defense left little shooting chances for the Eagles all game.

“Our defense played great and I think they just got tired and it was tough for them,” says Lewis.

The win sent the Titans to the quarterfinals on Saturday, May 11 to face the fifth-seeded Loveland Classical Lions who had rolled through their first-round game 5-0 the day before.

With a cold rain at Rady field, bordering on snow at times, both the Titans and the Lions appeared a bit off due to the freezing weather. Stiff play and loose touches plagued both teams, but Crested Butte managed another 1-0 lead by the end of the first half on a goal from Harpel.

“Conditions played a part, but I thought we attacked really well in the first half,” says Lewis. “We didn’t need to change anything for the second half, just make some micro-adjustments. We did decide to sub our wingers in and out more because we have just that kind of depth.”

Loveland Classical opened the second half with a quick chance in the opening minutes but Haskell made the save to keep the Titans’ lead intact.

The Lions continued pushing to find the equalizer for the first 10 minutes until Crested Butte strung together another series of second half goals.

It started 12 minutes into the second half when a corner kick from Harpel slipped through the keeper’s hands and over the line for a 2-0 lead. Eight minutes later Harpel picked off a Loveland Classical pass and carried the ball to the top corner of the 18-yard box before firing a shot over the keeper for a 3-0 lead.

Crested Butte tacked on a fourth goal when Miller broke through the Lions’ backline to fire a shot on net. The keeper made the initial save, but Hadley Blaisdell followed to punch the rebound in. Not long after Barney gathered a pass from Thomes to drive at the near post and fire a low shot into the far corner for the finishing touches on the 5-0 win and securing a spot in the semifinals.

“In both games we wore down the teams and exposed their weaknesses as the game went on,” says Harpel. “As a result, we were able to score a lot of great goals in the second half.”

“I think the biggest positive from the weekend is every single player played and we had freshmen scoring goals and combining with upper classmen,” adds Lewis. “That’s a testament to the team we have. We trust everyone to go out on the field and it’s great to have such a well-rounded team and a deep bench.”

Crested Butte moves on to the semifinals to face the top-seeded Flatirons Academy at All-City Stadium in Denver on Saturday, May 18 at 12 noon.

“They’re number one for a reason, because they’re good,” says Lewis. “If the defense plays the way they did the first two games, we have a chance.”

Harpel was a part of the Titans team that was knocked out in the quarterfinals last year but sees a more complete squad for this year’s run and why they’ve pushed through to the semis.

“This team is unique in that everyone on the field has the ability to score making us a very hard team to defend,” says Harpel. “We are also a very athletic team which allows us to maintain a high pace through the entire game and wear the other team down.”

Tickets to the game must be purchased online, link can be found on the CB Titans Athletics Facebook page or go to gofan.co. You can also watch the game online at nfhsnetwork.com.

“I really like our chances against Flatiron,” says Harpel. “It will be a hard game for sure, but I know that our team has the ability to beat them if we play well.”

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