COMMERCE CITY — A late afternoon championship contest that started with a lightning delay and saw a quick goal from the opposing team wasn’t enough to darken the spirits of Dawson’s girls soccer team.
After three consecutive years of coming up empty in the Class 2A state title game, the Mustangs weren’t about to leave Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Tuesday with anything less than their first state title. Dawson broke free with two second-half scores in the span of less than three minutes, and the Mustangs finally finished the season holding the trophy aloft with a 3-2 victory.
“We had a goal that we set at the beginning of the year, which was to break the cycle we’ve been on,” said Dawson coach David Criswell, the third coach to lead the team to the state title game. “They’ve worked so hard and been so dedicated all year long. I’m speechless as to how to describe it, but the first word that comes to mind is I’m proud.”
Kaitlyn Day scored two goals for Dawson (16-2) and Alex Dunbar added an insurance goal that proved to be huge after Denver Christian scored with less than five minutes remaining to make it a one-goal game.
“We’ve worked our hearts out for the past three years,” Day said. “To get this the fourth time just means a lot to our team and a lot to the whole school.”
In a rematch of the 2017 2A title game – a contest that Denver Christian took 4-3 – the underdog Thunder (12-6) put an early scare into Dawson. After the Mustangs put a few shots on goal in the opening minutes, Denver Christian’s first shot on goal in the ninth minute found the back of the net. Jessie Mueller took advantage of Mustangs goalkeeper Kate Gallop being aggressive, sending the ball past her.
That might have been a bad omen for Dawson in previous seasons, but not Tuesday. Day found herself in a one-on-one opportunity against Thunder keeper Abby Clark in the 12th minute and maneuvered around Clark, sending the ball into the back of the open net.
“To go down early – which we haven’t been in that position much this year – so to have a young team stick together, play composed and come back,” Criswell said, “it speaks volumes to the grit and resiliency this team has.”
Dawson took the lead for good fifteen minutes into the second half. After a yellow card was issued to Denver Christian, Day lined up to take a direct kick from just outside the right side of the box. The sophomore placed her shot perfectly.
“We knew we just needed to take the shot and follow,” Day said. “We wanted to aim into the goal – don’t go over, don’t go past. Whatever happens just follow and get it into the net.”
Not even three minutes later it was Dunbar’s turn. After Clark made a nice stop on a shot, the Thunder attempted to clear the ball. Instead the ball found its way to Dunbar, who sent a high shot from outside of the box over a leaping Clark.
Hally Herder made it 3-2 in the 86th, beating Gallop in a scrum in front of the net. But Denver Christian couldn’t get another shot on goal in the closing minutes, allowing Dawson to run the clock out.
The Thunder was without leading scorer Kara Amidon, sidelined with an injury.
“Props to Denver Christian. They’re a very well-coached team,” Criswell said. “We knew they would come out hard and we knew they would play until the very end. It was some tense moments at the end for sure.”
Both teams should be primed to make a similar run next year. Denver Christian loses only four seniors, and Dawson graduates three. Liv Cramer, one of those three, said the future for the team is really unstoppable given that some of the team’s best players are its youngest.
For Cramer, who led the team in goals as a freshman, getting to go out on top helped ease the sting of previous losses.
“I think coming in, having had that experience before, it honestly eased my nerves,” Cramer said. “I know how badly I wanted it. I knew it was really within reach, and I was really confident about my teammates’ goals.”