COMMERCE CITY – What initially looked like a potential runaway victory in the Class 2A girls soccer state championship game Tuesday ended up becoming a compelling battle.
But ultimately Denver Christian’s early blitz proved to be the deciding factor. The Thunder scored three goals in the first 16 minutes of play, and the team withstood a pair of rallies to emerge with a 4-3 victory at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
It was the first state title for Denver Christian since 2004.
“It’s amazing. These are some of my very best friends, and to have them with me to have this success together – it builds us and grows us together as friends and as a family,” said Thunder junior Miranda Kortenhoeven, who had a goal and an assist. “It’s amazing for our school too. It’s a great accomplishment.”
Denver Christian (16-2) received a pair of goals from Kara Amidon, including a clutch score with 12 minutes, two seconds remaining to give the team some breathing room.
The freshman – who led the team in scoring this spring – was at a loss for words after the game when asked what she was feeling.
“I can’t. It’s just so amazing,” Amidon said. “I don’t know.”
The top-seeded Thunder dominated the 2A ranks all season, with both of its losses coming to 3A programs. Denver Christian had handled Dawson 5-0 on April 20, and it looked like Tuesday’s game might be headed in a similar direction after a quick start.
Sidney Bejer got the ball rolling for the Thunder just more than two minutes into the game, taking a corner kick from Kortenhoeven and getting enough of the ball that Mustangs keeper Kate Gallop had to wrangle it in behind the line.
Kortenhoeven made it 2-0 in the 10th minute, scoring on a penalty kick after a foul in the box. Even after Dawson (13-4) cut into the lead on a rebound goal from Kaitlyn Day, the Thunder was able to respond quickly on Amidon’s first score of the night.
“You start a big game like this, and both teams are nervous. That showed a little bit,” Denver Christian coach Brad Homan said. “We were kind of lucky. I thought we were the beneficiaries of those nerves a little bit so we got a couple of quick ones.”
Dawson regrouped though, and in the final nine minutes of the first half the Mustangs again trimmed the lead to one. Hannah Isenhart ripped a long grounder that eluded Thunder keeper Rayne Rodgers.
“We were just a little bit afraid. They got us on our heels because of they way that they played,” Homan said. “The second half was more the type of game that we would have expected the whole game to be like.”
The second half was much more defensive-minded, with the shots – and mistakes – cut down quite a bit. It wasn’t until Amidon squirted a ball through from the left side and past Gallop that the Thunder finally had some wiggle room.
Even then it didn’t last, as Dawson’s Cameron Epstein scored with nine minutes remaining.
“I thought Dawson really kept battling and they put us under as much pressure as we’ve seen in 2A all year,” Homan said. “That’s a good team.”
The Mustangs were making their third consecutive appearance in the championship game. The team graduates only four seniors, including its leading scorer in Isenhart.
Denver Christian loses only three seniors and will return the core of a squad that made a tremendous leap forward this spring.
“I’m excited. This is a great group. They’re good athletes, they’re good soccer players, but they focus so well,” Homan said. “Really there is only about three to four of these girls who play soccer year-round. The rest of them are athletes.”