No. 6 Huskies ready for Greeley Central
EDWARDS – Sixth? Really?
Sixth with a 15-0 record? Sixth with one loss in its last 27 games?
Battle Mountain soccer is over the not-so-good news of Sunday. The Huskies had hoped for a top-four seed and the accompanying three home games. Instead it’s No. 6 and a date with No. 27 Greeley Central Thursday at 3 p.m. in the first round of the state playoffs in Edwards.
Huskies coach David Cope started Tuesday’s practice with a talk about the No. 6, saying that it will help his squad.
“It was hard that we were a ranked a little lower than we expected,” Huskies senior Broby Leeds said. “But I agree we can learn a lot from playing harder games earlier on. It will help us go further.”
Left unsaid is that the No. 6 ranking also might serve as motivation for Battle Mountain. (Get out the Aretha Franklin, people.) Also left unsaid is a possible third-round meeting at No. 3 Evergreen, the team which has eliminated Battle Mountain the last three years.
“In any competition, it’s easy to extrapolate forward at what could be,” Cope said. “But we’re firmly focused on Greeley Central.”
Meet the Wildcats
Greeley Central finished 7-7-1 overall and was 4-4 in the Northern League, likely the best 4A conference in the state. The Northern champion is Broomfield, ranked No. 2 in the state. Niwot is No. 7 in the state and was in second place in the North.
Two of the Wildcats’ league losses are to Broomfield (2-1) and Niwot (1-0), so they can clearly hold their own with the big boys. Also of note is a 3-2 loss early in the season to Sand Creek (ranked No. 8).
Greeley Central doesn’t have an explosive offense nor does it need one. The Wildcats scored 24 times in 2012 and only allowed 22.
“We know they had a really close game against Broomfield who are the No. 2 seed,” Cope said. “We know they’ve been in a lot of close games. We know that they are a lot better than their record is. Our mission is to prove that we are as good as our record is.”
Battle Mountain’s first job is to seal up the defense. The unit has not been performing poorly – it’s actually been stellar with only eight goals allowed in 15 games. Center back Will Nolan is done for the year, and that requires some moving.
Look for Roberto Diaz to move back from midfield to join Erick Briones, Brandon Osario and Gunnar Wilson.
“I think we’ll be fine,” Cope said. “This team is always built to replace players. We have a lot of players that are versatile and can play different positions. So I think the exciting thing is a player like Kevin Gillie gets a start (at midfield) and that’s great. We still have our solid crew with Briones, Brandon, Diaz and Gunnar. Those guys have been exceptionally solid with Christian.”
Goalie Christian Espinoza leads the unit with a miserly 0.35 goals-against average.
As western Colorado has discovered, Battle Mountain is fast and can score in a hurry. The Huskies plan to use the turf and width of their home pitch to maximum advantage – the Wildcats play on grass at District 6 Stadium in Greeley.
In the age of the Internet, scouting is easier, so the Wildcats know to keep their eye on Battle Mountain’s Joe LyBarger (21 goals and 11 assists).
Cope isn’t concerned.
“Yes, what’s going to jump out at teams is the number of goals he’s scored,” he said. “You’ve got to remember he has a ton of assists. So when he draws attention, he opens the field for other players. I think we also saw at (the second) Summit (County game) that Joe was willing to do a defensive job for us. Joe’s not a special player just because of goal scoring.”
And he’s not the only goal-scorer for the Huskies.
Diaz, Heivan Garcia, David Suarez and Wilson all have five or more goals.
Battle Mountain also has the edge in playoff experience. The Huskies have played in six postseason games, including three last year, while Greeley Central is playoff newcomer.
“Mostly we have to forget our past and play for our future,” Garcia said. “We know we have a better team than we did last year. But being in the playoffs before, we know we have to get every tackle and possess the ball as we do.”
Just for kicks
Battle Mountain had some fun in practice Tuesday playing with a black-gold scrimmage, playing 9-on-13 at one point on a shortened field. We assume the gold team was in the storied 5-5-2 formation. … LyBarger hit the cross bar during that drill, prompting Cope to say, “My advice is to aim lower.” That’s 20 years of coaching experience. … The winner of Thursday’s game faces the winner of Longmont at Pueblo Centennial. … Palmer Rigde (13-1-1), the champion of the Pikes Peak League, is the No. 1 seed. Broomfield (11-1-3) is No. 2 and hosts No. 31 Summit. Evergreen (11-1-3) got No. 3 as the Jeffco champ. No. 4 Mullen is 7-5-3, but is the defending state champ and plays in the 5A/4A Centennial League. No. 5 Ponderosa (9-4-2) is playing its first 4A season after being a 5A school in the last CHSAA cycle. … Steamboat Springs (9-6) did not get one of the eight at-large berths to the tournament.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.