COMMERCE CITY — Air Academy (US Air Force Academy)
senior Sarah Schweiss
picked up her best friend Tori Reifscheneider
on a rainy Wednesday night at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
Schweiss scored the game-winning goal in the 78th minute of the Class 4A girls soccer state championship game, helping Air Academy pull off a 3-2 victory and completing an impressive playoff journey for the 5th-seeded Kadets (17-3 record).
"It was a great run for us," said Schweiss, whose game-winning goal was her 19th on the season. "To finish out on top was amazing."
The goal washed away the pain of 2nd-seeded Green Mountain (Lakewood)
(17-1-1) tying the game at 2 in the 74th minute when a shot from Rams' senior Gabby Makatura
ricocheted off Reifschneider and into the back of Air Academy's net.
Green Mountain battled back from deficits of 1-0 and 2-1. The few minutes after the own goal knotted the game at 2-2, the Rams had good scoring opportunities from seniors Karlea Fehr
and Katie Marcheso
to take their first lead of the game.
"After that second goal I thought we had the momentum a little bit," Green Mountain coach Ken Fehr said. "We played as well as they did."
Karlea Fehr, the coach's daughter, had a shot sail just over the crossbar in the 75th minute. Marcheso had a solid low shot in the 76th minute, but Air Academy goalkeeper Sierra Daniger
was just able to get enough of the ball to tap it off the post and out of harm's way.
Appropriately, Reifschneider gave the initial feed up to Schweiss on the final goal that made overtime unnecessary.
"Tori is my best friend. Those things happen," Schweiss said of the own goal. "You forget about it. It's in the past. You move forward and that's exactly what we did."
Schweiss launched a high shot just outside the Rams' goal box. Green Mountain goalie Lindsey Hendon
wasn't able to get a hand on it as it floated just under the crossbar and into the back of the net.
Air Academy grabbed a 2-1 lead in the 59th minute on Brooke Braden's
tally, then had to show its resolve after the own goal.
"We are a no-excuses team," Air Academy coach Nancy Sibley said. "Our motto is: No excuses, just results. That is what we did tonight. We take care of each other."
The victory took care of the Kadets ending nearly a 20-year state title drought. Sibley was actually a player for Air Academy when it won its last girls soccer state title in 1993.
"It's a big deal," Sibley said as she looked for her family in the stands. "We've been working, working and working for it."
Recent playoff history between Air Academy and Green Mountain was very fresh going into the 4A title game. The squads faced each other in the 4A quarterfinals last season at Lakewood Memorial Field and the Kadets looked to have a 1-0 victory in hand until the Rams converted on a last-second, literally, corner kick. Hannah Miles scored the equalizer with 2 seconds left in the regulation time off a rushed corner kick by McKenzie Brunsdon.
After two scoreless 15-minute overtime periods, Green Mountain completed the miracle comeback by taking a 5-4 victory in the shootout.
The Rams' postseason run ended in 2011 with a 5-0 loss in the semifinals to eventual state champion Valor Christian. It had been more than a decade since Green Mountain was in position to win a state soccer championship. Under coach Theresa Echtermeyer the Rams won 5A state titles in 1997 and 1999.
Echtermeyer went on to guide Mountain Vista (Highlands Ranch) to 5A girls soccer titles in 2005 and 2011 after leaving the Rams.
Because of declining enrollment, Green Mountain dropped down to the 4A classification in 2011. Air Academy was in the same position, leaving the big-school classification after advancing at least to the 5A state quarterfinals in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
The Kadets were one win away from winning state in 2009 as Chatfield (Littleton) took a 1-0 victory in the 5A championship game just three years ago.