HIGHLANDS RANCH – Fast starts don’t always lead to immediate results – but for ThunderRidge girls soccer and senior Aspen Robinson, late was definitely better than never.
Robinson’s goal in the 67th minute broke a scoreless stalemate and powered the second-ranked Grizzlies (7-0-0) to a 1-0 win over the top-ranked (7-1-0) Rock Canyon Jaguars on Tuesday night at Shea Stadium.
“It was a really late goal,” said a smiling Robinson after the game. “It would have been nice if it came earlier.”
Robinson’s goal came off a fierce counterattack led by defender Shae Holmes, who had an opening but unselfishly found Robinson for the eventual game-winning goal.
“They liked playing the middle, we liked playing the edge. We were just able to exploit them on the outside that one time,” said ThunderRidge head coach Chris Smith postgame. “Shae Holmes took a nice touch in and found Aspen up high. It was just nice placement.”
Though ThunderRidge’s score came late, the Grizzlies dominated possession for most of the first half, and with the Jaguars on the defensive, ThunderRidge was able to dictate the flow of the game early.
“We started a little bit off,” said Smith. “But when we got our rhythm – about 20, 25 minutes into the half – we just kind of controlled the pace of things and looked good.”
It seemed like only a matter of time for ThunderRidge, because while the Grizzlies were sending dangerous crosses into the box for most of the first half, Rock Canyon was finding it difficult to mount much of a threat, repeatedly struggling to connect on long passes through midfield.
The Jaguars started showing signs of life late in the first. Their best opportunity came as time wound down in the half, when junior Dakota Wendell made a deep run into Grizzlies territory, only to be stripped of the ball in the box by a sliding tackle from defender Mealii Enos.
Momentum was clearly still on the Grizzlies’ side heading into the second half, but the Jaguars came out looking like a brand new team after the break. Powered in part by the booming leg of senior Alex Vidger, the Jaguars kept the pressure on ThunderRidge goalkeeper Sabrina Macias – but she proved up to the challenge, with multiple saves to keep the Grizzlies even.
Her biggest stop of the night came after a handball in the box penalty, when she dove to her left to make a save on a Jaguars penalty kick to keep the scored tied.
“I had all the confidence in the world in Sabrina. She’s such a fantastic keeper,” said Smith. “She’s BYU-bound, USA national team keeper. She’s a top-notch kid. She could just see it and she read it right.”
With Macias prowling the box and the Grizzlies back-line holding strong against the Jaguars pressure, ThunderRidge was able to mount a swift counterattack and finally broke through on a beautiful bit of teamwork between Holmes and Robinson.
“Shae, she was on the left side and she beat a couple players and crossed it back right to me,” said Robinson. “I just finished.”
With the win, the Grizzlies take control of the Continental league and will almost assuredly take the top spot in next week’s 5A girls soccer CHSAANow.com rankings. Asked if, armed with that knowledge, the win helps the Grizzlies moving forward, Robinson didn’t mince words.
“No,” said Robinson laughing, though she quickly grew serious. “Our team as a whole, we want to be in first. Now we have that, and we want to keep it. I think it’s going to push us harder to stay in first and go win state.”
ThunderRidge will try and take a step closer to that goal next Tuesday when they take on the Ponderosa at Sports Authority Stadium, while Rock Canyon will have a chance to bounce back right away against Denver East on Wednesday night at Shea Stadium.