COMMERCE CITY — A little more than five minutes away from its first state championship in four years, Cheyenne Mountain’s girls soccer team first had to weather the most intense few seconds of its season.
With the Indians leading 2-1 in the Class 4A state championship game Wednesday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Evergreen sent a corner kick into play that glanced off the post. The ball then disappeared in a scrum of players from both sides for several seconds.
Indians goalkeeper Ashley Bertsch frantically tried to locate the ball, which finally squirted through. Bertsch fell on it, and Cheyenne Mountain was able to ride it out and secure the victory for its first 4A state title since winning three in a row from 2013-15.
“That was the longest few seconds of my life,” Indians coach Nikki Athey said. “Ashley was amazing – so good.”
Cheyenne Mountain (11-8) started the 2019 season with losses in five of its first six games. The Indians finished fifth in the Pikes Peak Athletic Conference and entered the postseason as the No. 21 seed.
On its path to state glory, Cheyenne Mountain upset four of the top eight seeds, including No. 3 Evergreen.
“It’s been crazy, the whole thing,” said Indians senior Lisa Long, who scored both of the team’s goals. “None of us thought we were going to be here; honestly, just to make it was insane. Now that we won, it’s even crazier.
“Crazy is the only word I can use to describe it!”
With the score tied at 1-1 in the second half, Long found a seam to knock the game-winner into the back of the net with just less than 13 minutes remaining. Long slipped past a pair of defenders and drew Cougars keeper Sarah Straut out of the net, ripping a ball past her into the left corner.
“Everyone was pushing so hard. I knew that I had to do it for my team,” Long said. “Every single girl on this worked so hard, especially for our center-back (Katy Darr) who got hurt – we were all playing for her.”
It was reminiscent of Long’s first goal, which came just more than 10 minutes into the first half, shortly after Evergreen’s Elizabeth Rapp took a cross and fired a shot that went directly to Bertsch. On the ensuing possession, Long broke past the defense and beat Straut to put Cheyenne Mountain on top.
Long, who led the team with 18 goals this season, had seven goals in the playoffs alone.
“Lisa is a persistent, tenacious young lady with a ton of speed,” Athey said. “She’s so hard to mark. She’ll hang out, hang out, and then she’s gone. She comes out of nowhere sometimes.”
Evergreen (14-4-2) wasn’t without its chances, but for the most part couldn’t get things to fall into place.
The Cougars got on the board in the 39th minute to knot the game up at 1-1. Myla Stewart sent a long free kick from the right sideline and just tucked it under the crossbar for the score.
But a number of other opportunities couldn’t find a home, including two shots that went just over the crossbar late in the first half.
Bertsch finished with eight saves, six of which came in the second half.
“All the credit to Ashley,” Long said. “She had never been a keeper before this season. We didn’t have one, and she stepped up and took the role.”
Evergreen was making its second appearance in the 4A title game in three years.
As her players streamed up into the stands to celebrate with family and friends, Athey said it was incredible what the players were able to accomplish, noting that the squad found its team unity and kept pushing forward.
After missing out on two years, the Indians also put the PPAC back on top in 4A.
“We never lost hope. We were just going from game to game. We weren’t looking too far ahead,” Long said. “We just knew that if we turned our season around and pushed for something in the future, things would get better. Here we are!”