DENVER – Celebrating state championships is nothing new for Colorado Academy’s field hockey team, but there was something about Saturday night that just felt a little sweeter.
The Mustangs capped a perfect season at All-City Stadium with a 2-0 shutout of Palmer Ridge in the championship game. It was a third consecutive title for the program. Over the last three seasons Colorado Academy is a remarkable 50-0-2 – the team’s previous loss came in the 2011 state championship game. Included are 41-consecutive wins.
But sending the team’s six seniors out on top meant more to the players and coaches than perhaps anything else. Seniors Julia Murphy and Henley Hall scored the two goals, and the seniors were all smiles after the game as they posed together with the trophy one last time.
“It’s amazing especially because the seniors have been such a key part to our team these last three years,” junior defender Emma Richards said. “The fact that they can win it their last year in high school is just amazing.”
Saturday’s finale was the third meeting between the two teams this year. The Mustangs (17-0) had won the previous two by scores of 2-1 and 3-1, but the defense played lights out when it mattered most. Palmer Ridge (12-4-2) had 11 penalty corners compared to only two for Colorado Academy, but the Bears struggled to get a shot off on those opportunities.
“We really worked on the corners these last couple weeks. We knew how they set up, and we know how to score on them. It’s just getting that final execution,” Palmer Ridge coach Paul Lewis said. “A tap here or there and it’s in and we’re back in it.
“It was just not our night. They were able to keep us out.”
It was the fifth consecutive shutout for Colorado Academy, which outscored opponents 7-0 in the three postseason games. Bridget Sutter had a handful of stops in net, and Richards and senior Caroline Reisch were among the defenders who didn’t give the Bears many clean looks on the night.
The performance was that much more memorable given that Colorado Academy lost its top defenders to graduation a year ago, but Mustangs coach Veronica Scott knew the squad was in capable hands.
“I am so proud of our defense,” she said. “Gradually throughout the season … the defenders themselves have become more confident, but everyone else has had more confidence in them. I think when your teammates believe in you and trust you, you play better.”
While the Bears were unable to take advantage of their penalty corners, Colorado Academy scored on its very first chance. It took less than 11 minutes to find the net, as Richards sent a short corner straight ahead to Murphy, who ripped a hard shot past Palmer Ridge goalkeeper Cheradyn Pettit.
“The fact that we could get a stick there and get it in the goal,” Richards said, “it was just exhilarating.”
Hall added an insurance goal with less than eight minutes remaining in the first half. “Henley’s goal was a higher class. That movement that she did to receive, turn and just put it in the corner? That’s not a high school goal,” Scott said. “That’s a college and international goal.”
Colorado Academy was coming off a 1-0 overtime victory over Denver East on Wednesday that may have helped the team get off to such a strong start against Palmer Ridge.
“That East game was really good to shake out any complacency or anything like that we had on the team – not that we really carry much like that,” Scott said. “But what was really awesome was that it set us up mentally that we knew we had to come out hard.”
While Colorado Academy will lose six seniors, Palmer Ridge has 10 on its squad. The Bears, who also fell to the Mustangs in the 2012 title game, knocked off 2013 state runner-up Cherry Creek in the quarterfinals before edging No. 2 seed Kent Denver in the semifinals.
Lewis said this senior class is the final one at the school that got its start in the sport as freshmen, with the middle-school program now helping the incoming players gain experience prior to high school.
He was also proud of how his team battled Colorado Academy on all three occasions.
“We want to play the best. That’s how you get better,” Lewis said. “They’re a darn good team, and so are we.
“It’s about getting better, and as a program as a whole, we’re getting stronger.”