COMMERCE CITY - Belle Morel
had no qualms with looking ahead. In the preseason, the Peak to Peak (Lafayette)
standout junior made her ambition clear as can be.
She wanted to get back to the Class 3A girls soccer state championship game. The 1-0 loss last season to The Classical Academy (Colorado Springs) had haunted her throughout the offseason.
Morel and her teammates were back Tuesday night, and the classification's player-of-the-year candidate made sure her promise was kept. The Pumas simply weren't going to lose again.
Morel's header in the 64th minute was the difference in the Pumas' 2-1 win against Metro League-rival Colorado Academy (Denver)
at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. It was her 34th, and most important, goal of the season.
"Thinking about losing, I did not want to feel that feeling ever again," Morel said. "That really sparked us, and our whole team knew we had to avoid that feeling. We came back and it was great."
Things appeared eerily familiar for quite some time. Peak to Peak had an abundance of quality chances in the first half, but went to the locker room in a scoreless draw. Then, just as TCA did last season, Colorado Academy scored a goal early in the first half. It was freshman Marin McCoy
in the 43rd minute.
Even the coaching situation harkened memories of 2011. Peter Chandler missed the quarterfinals and semifinals before returning for the title game last season. He missed the previous three rounds this season to attend the college graduations of each of his quintuplets.
But history didn't repeat itself. Alex Johnson
, a chief contributor on last season's team who hadn't been the same since an ankle injury before the 2011 postseason, made up for lost time.
Johnson tied it 1-1 in the 55th minute, taking a feed from Morel and beating Colorado Academy keeper Sara Ozawa
to the near post despite being nearly cut off by Mustangs defender Sarah Sibley
Then, Johnson delivered the winning assist on a set piece. Her corner kick from the left side found Morel squarely in front of the net. As she is so adept at doing, Morel headed it past Ozawa.
"Alex is great," Morel said. "Last season, her and I connected really well. Seeing her play in this game, I could see in her eyes how much heart she had and that she wanted this as badly as I did."
For Peak to Peak (17-3), it was the school's third title in a team sport since opening in 1999. The boys soccer team, also coached by Chandler, won it all in 2005. The now-defunct hockey team won in 2006.
The Pumas also ended a three-year drought for the Metro League and became only the second public school since 1998 to capture the crown.
"One thing I told our kids after we got down was to keep playing; Patience," said Chandler, whose graduation tour took him as far east as Maine. "There's still loads of time on the clock. And they persevered. The other thing we were saying is, somebody's got to be a hero."
Morel fit that role nicely, but clearly shared the spotlight with the unheralded Johnson, who entered with only three goals and one assist this season.
"I'm really glad we got the chance to be here again and prove ourselves," Johnson said. "It just feels so good."
For Colorado Academy (13-5-2), the future appears abundantly positive. McCoy (17 goals this season) is only a freshman.
"Our coach (Sean Stedeford) and our school is really enthusiastic about this program," McCoy said. "It helped us get this far."