GREENWOOD VILLAGE — It's only fitting that the field hockey state championship game would end up being a rubber match between two of the state's top programs.
Fourth-seeded Regis Jesuit and No. 2 Cherry Creek each won their respective semifinal games setting up the state title game Tuesday at the Stutler Bowl. Regis beat Colorado Academy while Cherry Creek defeated Palmer Ridge.
The Raiders and Bruins have played twice this year, with each team getting a win. Regis is trying to win its second title in three years while Cherry Creek feels this is its season to finally grasp that championship trophy.
The state championship game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. start at the Stutler Bowl on Tuesday.
(4) Regis Jesuit 3, (1) Colorado Academy 1
Regis Jesuit couldn't be mad last year when Colorado came away with the win in the state championship game. But they could always get even.
After all the OVID-19 uncertainties that have plagued high school sports this year, the Raiders stayed patient. And in the state semifinals, they got their chance to avenge their state title game loss to the Mustangs, and did just that with a 3-1 win Monday at the Stutler Bowl.
The Raiders (7-1 overall) advance to their third field hockey championship game in a row. They're seeking their second title in program history. They beat Cherry Creek 2-1 in overtime to claim gold back in 2018.
"We had to beat them in the semis," Regis Jesuit coach Spencer Wagner said. "I told the team 14 months ago that we'd have to beat them in the semis. That's what we had to do and that's what we went out and did."
Colorado Academy (7-1-2) had been nearly impossible to beat all season. But junior Lily Castiglione got Regis on the board with a goal early in the second period and all of a sudden beating an unbeaten team felt like a realistic result.
"It definitely increased our momentum and mojo for the rest of the game," Castiglione said. "It made the impossible seem possible."
Castiglione came up big on the defensive side as well as the Mustangs pushed the offensive attack, threatening to tie the game. She cleared the ball away from the net and shortly was set up for a perfect deflection to make the game 2-0.
Cate Lord added another goal with just under two and a half minutes remaining in the third quarter to push the lead to three goals, forcing Colorado Academy to play more aggressively in the fourth. The Raiders just allowed the game to come to them and got two corner opportunities within a minute to try and pad the lead.
Although nothing came of the attempts, precious seconds ticked off the clock for the Mustangs.
The mounting pressure combined with the Raiders' ability to keep the Colorado Academy offense out of rhythm allowed for few scoring chances. Two corner attempts around the five-minute mark gave the Mustangs their best chance, but they still couldn't get a shot on the net.
"We definitely knew their scorers and their assist makers and our goal was to beat them to the ball," senior Grace Weigand said. "I was happy because I was able to be aggressive and our whole defense, I was able to trust the girls behind me."
Brooke Wachuta ended the shutout bid for the Rangers as she scored inside the final two minutes. Regis held its back line for the remainder of the game and gets a return trip to Stutler on Tuesday as a result.
(2) Cherry Creek 2, (3) Palmer Ridge 1
Alexandra Michelotti didn't hesitate when the ball came her way on a corner attempt. She got set and fired the ball toward the goal. The loud bang echoed through the Stutler Bowl leaving no doubt the goal was good and Cherry Creek was in the lead.
The Bruins (9-1) never looked back and beat the Bears 2-0 to get back to the state championship game.
Michelotti's shot broke a scoreless tie with 5:11 left in the first quarter. Emily Sands added to the lead as she scored with just 40 seconds remaining in the first to send the Cherry Creek students into a frenzy and inching the Bruins closer to a championship showdown with Regis Jesuit.
The two teams met in the 2018 state title game with Regis getting a 2-1 win in overtime. In fact, the Raiders have been a consistent foil in Creek's attempts to come away with a state championship in recent years.
The Bears (5-1-4) had their scoring chances in the second half but couldn't convert to cut into the Cherry Creek lead until there was 6:44 left in the game when Leah Hasstedt scored Palmer Ridge's first goal of the game. But they couldn't pull any closer and the Bears' playoff loss was just their first loss of the season.
This will mark the eighth state championship game appearance for Cherry Creek. They are 2-5 all-time when playing for a title and last won in 2007 with a 1-0 win over Colorado Academy.