EDWARDS — Four is the trendy number these days at Battle Mountain.
Just like the school’s girls soccer team, Huskies boys lacrosse drew No. 4 when the state bracket came out on Monday. And that means the Huskies laxers host No. 13 Air Academy today at 6:30 p.m. in the nightcap of a playoff doubleheader — girls soccer faces Denver South at 3:30 p.m. — in Edwards.
“Maybe it’s lucky No. 4,” Huskies lacrosse coach Jerry Nichols joked.
All kidding aside, give the coach some credit for knowing his bracketology. After the regular season finale on Friday against Grand Junction, Nichols rightly said that the Mountain Conference’s top teams would be seeded as Nos. 4-6. As apparently required by the cosmos, the Huskies are No. 4, followed by No. 5 Aspen and No. 6 Steamboat.
Battle Mountain fans are certainly familiar with Air Academy on the hockey front — the two schools have a long-standing rivalry. In lacrosse, the Kadets are one of the oldest programs in Colorado.
Air Academy went 17-2 last season and was the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. The Kadets beat Green Mountain, 9-2, in the first round, followed by a 10-5 victory over Ponderosa. (That should get the Huskies’ attention as they fell to those same Mustangs, 8-5, last spring.) Air Academy advanced to the finals with a 6-4 win against none other than Steamboat before the Kadets bowed to Wheat Ridge, this year’s top seed again, in the title game.
Air Academy graduated 14 seniors from last spring’s team but boasts 16 soon-to-be graduates on the roster this year.
One of those seniors is Mitchell Miller, who leads the team with 48 goals and 14 assists. His partner in crime is sophomore Jake Thornally (45 goals).
“Personally, I think they are an underrated team,” Nichols said. “They are a team that had a series of close games and tough losses, which hurt them in seeding.”
As far as strategy goes, winning faceoffs and ground balls and controlling possession would be standard for any game. But with 93 combined goals in two players alone with Mitchell and Thornally, long offensive possessions for Battle Mountain will be the order of the day.
When looking at the 4A bracket, the first thing that jumps out at Battle Mountain fans is that were the Huskies to win today, a rematch with Aspen would likely be in the cards on Friday in Edwards. The Skiers play Evergreen, whom the Huskies beat, 13-0, in nonconference play, in Aspen today. Of course, Battle Mountain edged Aspen, 7-5, in a thriller in their Mountain Conference tilt.
“We take it one game at a time,” Huskies senior goalie Zach Trombetta said, mirroring his coach’s thoughts. “Our focus is all on Air Academy.”
According to Trombetta, the Huskies spent practice on Monday and Tuesday replicating the looks Air Academy has for both the offensive and defensive units.
Said or unsaid, playing Aspen again would be a motivation for today’s game. But there’s a bigger fire eating at Battle Mountain, its quick playoff exit last year at the hands of Ponderosa.
Nichols said that everyone involved from coaches and players were understandably tight in their playoff debut last May. He and Trombetta feel that Battle Mountain will benefit from that game.
“That was a good experience,” Trombetta said. “We played well. Now, we know what it takes to win a playoff game, what it’s like to be in that scenario. We know what it felt like to lose, and we don’t want to feel like that again.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.