COMMERCE CITY — Walking up to the box to take her turn in the shootout Tuesday night, Hannah Paschke’s emotions were running high.
A year ago in the Class 3A state semifinals, Paschke’s penalty kick in a shootout with Colorado Academy went off the crossbar. So before she take what could have been the deciding shot Tuesday, teammate Alex Loera huddled with her and whispered words of encouragement.
It worked – as did almost every decision the Wildcats made in the 3A state championship game, no matter how unconventional. Peak to Peak goalkeeper Rachel Willette couldn’t quite get a firm grip on Paschke’s shot, and as the ball crossed the line, the celebration commenced.
One year after its season ended in heartbreak in a shootout, The Academy earned redemption and the program’s first state title with a 1-1, 4-3 shootout victory at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
“I knew her emotions were going crazy,” Loera said. “We just got together and I told her ‘All you’ve got to do is put it in the back of the net. Just take a breath and put it back.’ After that we prayed and she came up big time.”
After playing to a 1-1 tie through regulation and two overtimes, Wildcats coach Kevin Davis made a unique decision headed into the shootout. Davis opted to put Loera in goal instead of keeper Kristine Honomichl – a decision that Honomichl and the team fully supported.
It was Loera’s first time in net, yet she made a save on her third go-round.
“She’s very quick laterally,” Davis said. “Kris was OK with it, the team was OK with it; they were super unselfish.”
It was just that kind of night for The Academy (18-1), which had fallen in the state semifinals in each of the previous two seasons.
After Peak to Peak (15-3-1) scored the go-ahead goal just more than two minutes into the second half, Loera threaded her way through four defenders and put the equalizer into the back of the net with less than 25 minutes remaining in regulation.
“The two left a gap right between, and I was like ‘I’ve got to go through there. That’s my only way,’” Loera said. “I went through and once I was on the breakaway I just slotted it. The goalie got a hand on it, but luckily there was enough power on it.”
Peak to Peak’s only shot on goal over the final 70 minutes of play came on Emma Shepherd’s hard liner that gave the Pumas the brief lead. With Peak to Peak on its heels as The Academy put the pressure on, Willette made nine saves down the stretch and the Pumas’ defense prevented the Wildcats from taking the lead.
In the shootout, Peak to Peak had three attempts go high, but Willette made two big saves. It wasn’t until Paschke earned her own measure of redemption that The Academy could finally enjoy what had been a long time in the making.
“The past two years our team has been pretty good,” Paschke said. “This year, I knew this team could do it … this team deserves it.”
“It’s just been crazy,” Loera added. “I don’t even know how to put it into words right now. I am overly emotional right now. We’ve gone four years and tried and tried and tried, and we finally did it.”
Loera finished her senior season with 42 goals, and is one of only two seniors on the roster.
“The ladies deserve that win. They worked their tails off over the last two years,” Davis said. “We talk about it’s just an opportunity and you’ve got to earn it. Tonight they earned it.”
Peak to Peak graduates only four seniors off a team that finished tied for second in the Metro League.