COMMERCE CITY — Three years ago, Colorado Academy’s girls soccer team thought it was closing in on a three-peat, only to have those dreams dashed in the Class 3A state title game.
That’s why Tuesday night’s 3-0 victory over Jefferson Academy – giving the Mustangs their first championship since 2015 – meant a little bit more.
Winning one for the players who came before them, and doing it in convincing fashion at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, made the season that much more special.
“We’re really proud of this group, and I think it’s also important to know that there’s a lot of girls in our program over the last three years that wanted this,” Colorado Academy coach Sean Stedeford said. “They are every bit a part of this success of this team tonight.”
Mari Annest scored a pair of goals, the first one breaking a scoreless tie nearly nine minutes into the second half. That opened the door for Colorado Academy (19-1), with Annest scoring again in the 57th minute, and Catie Groves adding an insurance goal not even three minutes later.
It was a similar situation to the team’s semifinal victory over Prospect Ridge Academy, when Colorado Academy broke it open in the second half.
“I think this team has struggled a lot with kind of panicking if we can’t put it away quickly,” Annest said. “Once we can finally put a goal away, we get it in our heads that we can take this game.”
The victory avenged the team’s only loss this season. Jefferson Academy (17-2-1) took the first matchup, but as Stedeford noted, going up against league opponents in the postseason is common in the Metro League.
The Jaguars were the third league opponent for the Mustangs in the postseason. It marked the fourth time in five years that two Metro teams made the championship.
Annest, the Northwestern University-bound senior who led the team with 37 goals coming into the game, put Colorado Academy on her back in the second half. After Jefferson Academy was whistled for a foul and issued a yellow card, Annest lined up for a direct free kick some 10 yards outside the box.
Annest curved her shot into the right side of the goal, eluding Jaguars goalie Brooklyn Kirkpatrick.
“I’ve been pretty solid on set pieces right outside the box for most of the season,” Annest said. “I saw it, I knew where I wanted to put it, and got lucky, maybe? The keeper got a touch, but I was so incredibly excited it went in.”
Annest struck again with more than 23 minutes remaining, sending a laser shot past Kirkpatrick.
She said she knew one was coming Tuesday night.
“She’s a really talented player,” Stedeford said. “She added a whole different dynamic into our group this season. The seniors in general led from the front tonight.”
Groves capped the scoring midway through the half.
“We always try to get the first goal,” Stedeford said. “We knew the first goal was going to be important in a game of this magnitude. Similar to the semifinal, when the first goal went in, it sort of relaxed our group.”
For the seniors, going out on top helped erase the string of coming up one game short in their first season.
“This has been a long time coming,” Annest said. “I was in this game freshman year, we lost to Kent (Denver) that year. We always knew this was where we wanted to be again.”