On a Wednesday evening last November, the Centaurus (Lafayette)
boys soccer programs put the Class 4A Northern League back in the postseason spotlight.
The teams showcased the league in the semifinals of the 4A state tournament, the first time a Northern League team had reached the 4A semifinals since Broomfield did it in 2012. Centaurus ultimately came out on top that night to advance to the state title game, with Niwot coach Stephen Dimit calling it "one of those once-in-a-lifetime games."
"It was incredible. Centaurus, they had a magical year last year. Coach (Lee) Stanley) had them cruising and believing," Dimit said. "The atmosphere in that game was intense. I think both teams absolutely believed they were going to win that game."
Both Niwot and Centaurus, which meet in the regular season Oct. 2, return some key pieces from last year's state surge and could find themselves in a similar situation. While defending state champion Air Academy
is certainly the team to beat at this point, there are plenty of squads looking to dethrone the Kadets.
Niwot, which last won a state championship in 2009, will look to some younger talent to lead the Cougars in 2018. The team graduated 12 from last year's semifinal team.
"We've got a lot of young guys this year. We look really different, but there is a lot of enthusiasm and energy," Dimit said. "The young guys are eager to put their stamp on the program for the first time."
Tapia's 41 points (16 goals and nine assists) paced Niwot a year ago. Jimenez-Flores was fourth on the team in points with 20.
"(Manny) is huge for us. He's one of our captains, and he's just a threat to score at all times. He's a competitor and has so much passion for the game and the team," Dimit said. "Just having him back and having the continuity is huge.On top of that he's up front with Jonathan, who has kind of been in the shadows … and he comes out and puts up a hat trick."
returns in the midfield and Niwot also brings back starting goalkeeper Mario Munoz
. The Cougars were hit hard by graduation in the defensive backfield, and while Dimit said this year's line may not have the size of 2017, the defenders are smart and fast.
"It's kind of a new look but so far they're rising to the challenge," he said. "The nice thing is when you have to defend guys like Manny and Jonathan, there's no better training in the state than to have to see those guys every single day and shut them down."
Those practice reps will also help as Niwot's early-season schedule is loaded with challenges. In a five-day stretch in early September, the Cougars visit No. 8 Skyline (Longmont)
before hosting 5A's Legacy (Broomfield)
and then top-ranked Air Academy.
Centaurus, which meets Niwot on Oct. 2, opened its season Tuesday with 5A defending state champion Broomfield
. The Warriors also meet up with Air Academy in a state-championship rematch Sept. 18.
"Both teams I think are going to be really battle-tested going into that (Oct. 2) game. Our schedule the next two weeks is really tough to try and make us better," Dimit said. "I think both teams understand kind of where we could be."
Broomfield and 3A's Liberty Common (Fort Collins)
join Air Academy as defending champions. The 2018 season will see the inaugural campaign for the 2A classification, as well.
With the season still in the early stages, here is a quick look at each of the state's four classes going into the fall:
Defending state champion:
6 p.m., Nov. 9 at Dick's Sporting Goods ParkOverview:
Broomfield captured its third title in four years by defeating Denver East 1-0 last November. Three
first-team all-state players – including Player of the Year Michael Mooney – graduated, but the Eagles return second-leading scorer
(11 goals), among others. … The Eagles draw 2016 champion Boulder
early with a Sept. 17 matchup. The Panthers are off to a strong start, including a 3-1 victory over reigning 4A champion Air Academy. Leading scorer Omar Castruita
(20 goals, 19 assists as a junior) returns to lead Boulder's offense. … Another Front Range League foe in Fort Collins
should be right in that mix as well. The Lambkins, which fell to Broomfield in the semifinals, return leading scorers Anthony Priest
(47 points) and Alec Fronapfel
(46 points). … Denver East
graduated leading scorer Sam Carson, but the Angels have Marko Babiak
(eight goals, 10 assists as a junior) returning along with Zion Wagoner
, who had 13 assists as a sophomore. … Grandview (Aurora)
was the other 5A semifinalist, falling 1-0 to East. The Wolves were junior-heavy a year ago, with Angelo Mujica
and Jaime Luna
combining for 23 goals. … Cameron Gail
of Arapahoe (Centennial)
led 5A with 25 goals as a junior, and he scored five times in the Warriors' season-opening victory over Aurora Central.
Defending state champion:
Air AcademyState championship:
11 a.m., Nov. 10 at Dick's Sporting Goods ParkOverview:
Air Academy went a perfect 20-0 in 2017, defeating Centaurus 1-0 in the championship game for the school's third title since 2010. Player of the Year Kristian Hooker graduated, but the Kadets aren't hurting for scoring: Luke Louthan
n and Thaddaeus Dewing
combined for 32 goals. Thomas Beatty
had eight shutouts in net for Air Academy as a junior. … Fernando Ruiz
(22 goals, eight assists) and Christian Nunez
(15 goals, 14 assists) paced the offense for Centaurus as sophomores in 2017. The Warriors did lose a pair of first-team all-state talents in midfielder Ethan Michel and keeper Rodrigo Ruiz. … The Classical Academy (Colorado Springs)
graduated Jake Slater, who finished second in 4A with 70 points. But Nathan Johns
and Eli Grant
combined for 14 goals between them and the Titans return both of their keepers. … Steamboat Springs
returns all-state forward Murphy Bohlmann
(24 goals) to a Sailors team that upset Golden in the first round of the playoffs. … Denver North
and Kennedy (Denver)
each earned top-six seeds out of the Denver Prep League. Both teams return their starting keepers: North has Bryan Torres
(18 GAA in 18 games) and the Commanders have Carlos Casillas
(17 GAA). … Jayden Austin
of Sand Creek (Colorado Springs)
has nine goals in two games, including seven in a 10-0 rout of Sierra (Colorado Springs).Class 3A
Defending state champion:
Liberty CommonState championship:
1:30 p.m., Nov. 10 at Dick's Sporting Goods ParkOverview:
Liberty Common ran the table on its 2017 opponents, defeating top-seeded Jefferson Academy in the
quarterfinals before downing Colorado Academy 1-0 in the championship game to win its first title. Four players scored at least 20 points in their junior season, paced by leading scorer
(17 goals, nine assists). Keeper Michael Bradley
is also back after allowing only 10 goals in 19 games. … Colorado Academy (Denver)
graduated Player of the Year Larson Baker, but the Mustangs had a handful of juniors last fall who provided some scoring punch and return this season. … Kent Denver (Englewood)
is coming off a 16-win season and a semifinal appearance. The Sun Devils return leading scorer Max Hewitt
, who had 14 goals and seven assists. Keeper Joey Waldbaum
allowed only five goals as a junior. … Jefferson Academy (Broomfield)
, which opened with a 2-1 loss to Standley Lake, brings back leading scorer Ian Coen
(16 goals, six assists). … Colorado Springs Christian
scored goals in bunches on its way to the 3A semis last fall, piling up 105 goals. Freshman Kinsley Smith led the way with 27, and junior Lookens Smith had a team-high 64 points with 22 goals and 20 assists. … Atlas Preparatory School (Colorado Springs)
standout Lamario Nisbeth
led all 3A scorers with 28 goals as a sophomore.Class 2A
Defending state champion:
None (1st year of competition)State championship:
4 p.m., Nov. 10 at Dick's Sporting Goods ParkOverview:
While girls soccer added a fourth classification in 2015, this is the first year in 2A for 23 programs. The 12-team playoff field offers postseason opportunities that were hard to come by in 3A. … Dawson School (Lafayette)
opened the season ranked first after advancing to the second round of the 3A tournament last fall. The team's leading scorer in 2017 was sophomore Jesse Isenhart. … Ridgway
opened its season with a 2-1 overtime victory over Alamosa. The Demons were the No. 6 overall seed in 3A last year before being upset by Salida in the first round. Leading scorer Robert Beserra
(17 goals) returns for his junior year. … Riki Fujimoto
had 12 assists as a freshman for Fountain Valley (Colorado Springs)
, which also made the 3A postseason. … Crested Butte
looked impressive in shutout victory over Montezuma-Cortez and Bayfield. Junior Carlos Franco
already has three goals and four assists.