DENVER — Unprecedented, unparalleled, unmatched.
Take your pick. They all apply to this Colorado Academy girls lacrosse program, which on Wednesday won its fifth consecutive state championship with a 9-5 victory over Cherry Creek. No other program has won more than three in a row.
The Mustangs, who finish the season 19-0-0, have won 48 consecutive games dating back to 2017, and have won 74 consecutive games against in-state opponents dating back to 2015.
Not to say that any of this is easy.
"That's what people don't see," said Colorado Academy senior Sloane Murphy, a captain. "We put in countless hours off the field, out of practice — with each other, going over film, going over plays. I mean we don't have an old team. We have eight sophomores, two freshman. Our underclassmen actually outnumber our upperclassmen, and it takes all that to get here.
"Creek is one of the fiercest competitors we ever seen, they come out wanting to win every single time," Murphy continued. "So I think to overcome all that, to beat all the norms, all the expectation, and focus on the team we have this year and just play to our potential is just unbelievably rewarding."
Said Stephanie Sanders, CA's coach: "It's so hard and it's so much pressure. We really try to focus on us and getting better. ... They're such a good group. It's a really hard thing to do. It's really fun, but I just want it to keep being special for them. I don't want it to be the norm. I want them have to work for it. And that's why sports is so awesome: Anything can happen."
The victory was the final one for Sanders, who is stepping down to move out of state. In her time as coach, CA emerged as the premier program in the state, went 89-5 and won five championships.
"These girls are in a great position," Sanders said. "They're young, they're strong, they're brave. It's sad, I don't want to leave them. ... I'm sad to leave them, but I'm so excited for what they have in store."
Said Murphy: "Steph has been an unbelievable mentor to me, and to this team. Having her develop this culture, develop this tradition, come in and reinvent a program is something spectacular. Without her, this program wouldn't be where it is."
The game went scoreless for more than eight minutes as Cherry Creek dominated possession, but Colorado Academy's defense did a great job of turning away any Bruin attacker who got anywhere near the net.
"We have an amazingly athletic team, so our big focus was get on their hands, make it hard for them to make passes, make it hard for them to set up," Murphy said, "because that's where Creek is really dominant: when they get the opportunity to get some space and drive one-on-one."
"They're incredibly disciplined," Sanders said. "They're mostly sophomores, so this program is in great hands. But they listened, and they executed the plan. They're just a rare group."
It wasn't until Merrill Rollhaus scored for Colorado Academy with 16:40 to play in the first half that the seal was broken. The Mustangs added three more goals as the half wore on to build a 4-0 lead with exactly four minutes left in the half.
Cherry Creek took a timeout after that fourth goal, and the Bruins' Morgan Haws responded with a goal 53 seconds later.
But Colorado Academy responded, thanks to a goals from Ella Greene and Kendall Smart, to push its lead to 6-1 with 39.4 seconds left in the half.
Cherry Creek scored with 8 seconds to play in the first half, then opened the second half with a goal by Katie Collins less than a minute in.
But as they did most of the night, Colorado Academy had an answer. Greene scored two minutes after Creek's goal, and then Jessie Bakes added another seven minutes after that. It was 8-3 with 14:36 to play.
Cherry Creek did cut it to 8-5 with 4:22 remaining when Haws scored her second of the game, but Colorado Academy's Merrifield scored just 19 seconds later to make it 9-5.
Each of Colorado Academy's five championships have come in matchups against Cherry Creek in the final. The Bruins have their own unmatched streak, having been to every state championship contest in the sport's sanctioned history — 22 in a row.