5A girls lacrosse: Colorado Academy, Valor Christian to face off in title game

(Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

PARKER — Four teams met up at EchoPark Stadium on Monday evening to decide the final two teams that would be playing for a Class 5A trophy at the end of Season D. No. 1 Colorado Academy and No. 2 Valor Christian prevailed.

In the final game of the Season D campaign on Wednesday night, the Mustangs and Eagles will play for the 5A championship at Legacy Stadium in Aurora.

(1) Colorado Academy 16, (5) ThunderRidge 4

Champions miss the championship feeling, so the Colorado Academy girls lacrosse team felt the same emptiness that every spring athlete experienced last spring when the coronavirus pandemic wiped out the season.

The Mustangs had won the last five state championships in the sport.

Top-seeded Colorado Academy will have a chance to get that championship experience again after advancing to Wednesday’s Class 5A state championship game with a methodical 16-4 victory over fifth-seeded ThunderRidge on Monday evening at EchoPark Stadium. The Mustangs will face No. 2 Valor Christian.

“You don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” Mustangs senior captain Katharine Merrifield said. “It was so tough not having playoffs last year and not having that excitement. You really miss all of that. It makes you appreciate the little things, the practices, the games and just getting to hang out with teammates.”

Colorado Academy turned in the epitome of team play in topping the Grizzlies, who came into the game after becoming the team that kept Cherry Creek out of the championship game for the first time in the sports’ sanctioned history. ThunderRidge downed the Bruins 13-12 in the quarterfinals.

Senior Jessie Bakes scored just 38 seconds into the game and finished with five goals, a total matched by freshman Zoe Martin, while Merrifield added four in a thorough performance that pleased Colorado Academy head coach Laura Sandbloom.

“We played very well as a team; it was a complete performance, which was nice since we only had a 10-game season, which made it a challenge,” said Sandbloom, an assistant on the Mustangs’ five championship teams under Steph Sanders who had her first season as head coach canceled last season.

Sandbloom and her coaching staff prepared Colorado Academy to face a difficult defense in ThunderRidge and the Mustangs looked ready, especially after going against the team’s own veteran defense in practice.

Bakes, who passed the 50-goal mark on the season with her performance, said Colorado Academy was ready.

“They are scrappy and a great defense, but we practice against the best defense in the state with our own players, so that just helps us prepare for games like this,” Bakes said. “We know how to move the ball fast. It was really a team effort.”

ThunderRidge evened the game early on a goal by Lucy Munro, but faced an eight-goal deficit at halftime that grew to double digits in the second half after back-to-back goals by Bakes.

Munro scored twice for the Grizzlies, who finished the season 11-2 overall.

“There’s no woulda, coulda, shouldas, they put it all out there from the beginning to the end,” ThunderRidge coach Dana Srdoc said. “We went up against a team that you can’t make mistakes against and if you do, they take advantage.”

Colorado Academy’s victory was its 22nd in a row in the postseason dating back to a quarterfinal loss to Centaurus in the 2014 quarterfinals.

The Mustangs will play for the state championship for the seventh time and for the first time, Cherry Creek won’t be the opponent. Colorado Academy defeated both Valor Christian and Regis Jesuit this season, but know that whoever emerges from the other semifinal will be ready to play.

“We played both those teams early on in our season and obviously things have progressed since then,” Bakes said. “You’re fighting 10 times harder for that win, so I’m excited to see what either of those teams brings.”

Added Merrifield: “Both are really great teams, but our goal is focusing on CA lacrosse and how we can play together as a team.”

(Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

(2) Valor Christian 11, (6) Regis Jesuit 7

The foundation had been set for the Valor Christian girls lacrosse team and some new additions have helped take it over the top.

The Eagles had never been as far as the state semifinals before, but bolstered by some young talent, earned the chance to play for a state championship for the first time with Monday night's 11-7 victory over sixth-seeded Regis Jesuit in a Class 5A semifinal at EchoPark Stadium.

Coach Terry Ellis' second-seeded team has a tall task ahead of it, however, with undefeated and top-seeded Colorado Academy — which has a 22-game postseason winning streak and is in search of a sixth straight state championships — awaiting in Wednesday night's title game at Legacy Stadium.

"It's huge for us, it's incredible to see how the program has grown," said Ellis, whose team won its 10th game in a row and improved to 11-1. "It's a testament to all the people that have come before us, the coaches and players. Without having last year, the girls came out really focused and wanting to win and hopefully we can continue doing that."

The Eagles joined the school's boys team in playing for state lacrosse championships — Valor Christian also defeated Regis Jesuit in the boys semifinals — and earned the chance to avenge their only loss of the season, a 15-12 defeat at the hands of Colorado Academy back on May 19.

Valor Christian got that chance with a fast start against Regis Jesuit (8-5), another program in search of its first state championship game appearance. The Raiders were playing in the semifinals for the third time and for the first time since 2013.

The Eagles took the edge in the opening minute on the first goal from sophomore Reagan Digby, who finished the half with a hat trick that helped create a 7-2 lead.

"We have a lot of heart on this team, so I think everybody on this team came out from the beginning with everything they had," said Digby, who finished with a team-high four goals. "We want to win state so bad."

Regis Jesuit wanted it badly as well and came out on fire in the second half.

Coach Kathyn Ames' group reeled off four of the first six goals of the half to pull as close as 9-7 with 11:54 remaining when sophomore Emily Bradac converted a free shot opportunity.

That would be the last score Regis Jesuit would get, however, as Valor Christian added goals by juniors Rachel Pallo and Tess Osburn to keep the game out of reach.

"You get nerves in semis and early some of the jitters and mistakes came out, but I'm definitely proud of the fire and energy we had in that second half," Ames said. "Sometimes you work so hard to get back and then you can't get it over the hump."

Osburn finished with three goals and Pallo had two for Valor Christian, which now can turn its attention to Colorado Academy.

The Eagles believe that Ellis has some tricks up his sleeve to help them get over the top against the Mustangs.

"We're just going to keep playing our game and see what happens," senior Lauren Rismani said. "And Coach Terry definitely knows what he's doing."

Ellis believes his team can match Colorado Academy with talent and he'll try to keep his team steady during the early stages of the championship game, so they can be ready to take advantage in key situations.

"We have to play our best and we have to come out strong and understand they are a talented team," Ellis said. "These are the games you look forward to as a coach, the best against the best. I'm looking forward to it and I know the girls are, too."

(Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)