MONUMENT — Last year's close loss to Cherry Creek stung for the Palmer Ridge field hockey team. It stung worse when it saw how close the Bruins came to claiming a state championship less than two months later.
So when two second half goals led to the No. 5-ranked Bears pulling out a 2-1 win over No. 3 Cherry Creek, it felt like a complete mentality shift for the girls celebrating on the turf at Don Breese Stadium.
"Winning this game is such a big confidence booster," Palmer Ridge coach Mallory Cuccio said. "I think they can carry this momentum through the rest of the season which is really exciting."
It's also an indication of how deep the competition is across all the teams in the state. Regis Jesuit and Kent Denver opened the season by battling to a tie and with this win by Palmer Ridge over Cherry Creek, it's seems as if there is no clear championship favorite in 2019
"Palmer Ridge is definitely one of the top teams in the state, and I think it just is foreshadowing a really competitive season," Cherry Creek coach Clare Detrick-Yee said. "We set really high expectations for ourselves and, we obviously didn't succeed tonight, but there's a lot of room for growth and we're just going to keep on working hard."
Creek (2-1 overall) jumped out to an early lead thanks to a goal from Alexandra Michelotti. The Bruins held that lead into halftime, but the Bears (3-0) immediately came out and did a better job of possessing the ball than they did in the first 30 minutes.
The better possessions led to better scoring opportunities and it was Hannah Hermann who connect on a long-range shot to even the score.
Palmer Ridge continued their aggressive approach in the half and with five minutes, 23 seconds left in the game Marit Bierman pushed the ball past Cherry Creek Emma Litvin to score the deciding goal.
Knowing the situation she and her team were in, there was no fear in pulling the trigger on the shot. She knows having the courage to fire the ball and the net along with the team's desire to win a second state title in three years will generate positive results this fall.
"I don't get nervous because when I get nervous, I mess up," Bierman said. "We can definitely win state. We have the capability of getting there because we're a team and we want to win."
For better or worse, the win on Wednesday is a message to the rest of the state that Bears are for real. They know they're capable of playing at the level they were in 2017 and up until the clock struck 0:00 at Don Breese Stadium, Cuccio wasn't sure just how seriously her team was being taken this year.
"The state just thinks that we had some seniors last year who graduated and think we're the underdog," Cuccio said. "I love being the underdog because I think people are just going to not expect us to compete."
After Wednesday, teams will certainly see Palmer Ridge as a team ready to compete. That secret is now out of the bag.
And it's going to make an already competitive field hockey season all the more fun for everyone else.