Orange overcomes Denver Christian in semis
The postseason Continues
Windsor at Battle Mountain, 3 p.m.
Today through Saturday
State track and field at Jeffco Stadium
Vail Mountain vs. TBD, 2A state championship, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Denver, 5 p.m.
DENVER — One simply cannot make this up.
The rainbow appeared over the Vail Mountain School’s sideline just as the buzzer sounded at All City Stadium in Denver after the Gore Rangers’ 1-0 2A state semifinal win over Denver Christian on Wednesday.
The orange-clad Gore Rangers and their fans are going to Tuesday’s state title game at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park at 5 p.m. against Front Range Christian or the Dawson School. (The second semifinal of the evening went past press time.)
“This is so insane,” VMS’ Emma Hall said. “It’s like a dream. I don’t think anyone thought we would get this far. The fact that we have is pretty amazing.”
Despite soccer being VMS’ preferred pastime when there is no snow, this is the Gore Rangers’ first championship-game appearance. For the trivia buffs in the audience, the furthest a VMS soccer team has gone was the 2000 3A semifinals — the boys lost to Faith Christian, 3-1.
“We have spent a lot of time on the sideline, wearing orange,” VMS head coach Bob Bandoni said. “And it’s good we’re going to go one more game.”
“We’re making history and it’s really an honor to be on this team,” Gore Rangers freshman Tess Johnson said. “I didn’t know how far we would come and how far we have come. It’s just incredible to be on this amazing team.”
At the buzzer
VMS (15-1) avenged the only blemish to its record this season with the win over the Crusaders — the two teams met March 27 with Denver Christian winning, 4-1. A lot has changed since then.
The transition from winter to spring is slower in the mountains and VMS’ roster, throughout the season, has reflected that. The Gore Rangers possessed and played to feet from the start.
VMS had the majority of the possession with Johnson hitting a crossbar and the left post in the first half alone.
Naturally, after all the excellent technical soccer, it was an ugly goal that decided it.
With the clock winding down in the first half, Senior Kristen Vossler started the sequence to Griffin Mueller, who popped it over the Crusaders defense. Johnson was there and she finished it.
“I saw five second left and I just went for it,” Johnson said. “Even if it didn’t count, at least I went for it. I threw my body at it and hoped it went in.”
The ball went in and the buzzer went off. Everyone conferred and it was a goal.
“I thought our first goal was a statement for our team,” Bandoni said. “It was a blue-collar goal. It was not well structured. We just dug. That’s Tess and all those players up front. They’re workhorses and they play for each other. Those types of goals you need.”
Officially, Johnson scored with 1.5 second left in the half.
The defense never rests
In its last nine games prior to Wednesday, VMS has had just a singular one-goal game, the Coal Ridge win. As such, the Gore Rangers’ defense has not been thoroughly tested.
The ladies passed their test with flying colors. Goalie Holly Parker had some shaky moments early with her feet, but she was clutch in the crunch. Along with Parker, center-backs Vossler and Olivia Manula, outside-backs Maddie Donovan and Annie Blakslee and distributing midfielder Sydney Sappenfield thwarted every Denver Christian surge.
“It was a little physical, but it was all clean,” Donovan said. “The first half was a little shaky. The second half, we picked it up and started communicating.”
“I’m always happy that we have Nordic racers out there,” Bandoni joked about Donovan and Blakslee.
Parade of orange
Since Vail Mountain is the No. 1 seed, the Gore Rangers were wearing their new white-with-orange tops to comply with CHSAA rules. All City Stadium, however, had a distinct orange tinge.
Gore Rangers fans were in equal number to those supporting Denver Christian, quite the feat given the drive for VMS partisans. In addition to the alumni who make up the Brain Trust, aka the assistant coaching staff, the postgame scene seemed like a high school reunion.
“We had players wearing orange in England and in Vietnam and sending these beautiful messages on the meaning of wearing orange,” Bandoni said. “These are players who graduated a decade or more ago, and some as recently as five years ago. It’s just deep, deep meaning here, and you can see it all around.”
“It’s so exciting,” Donovan said of the orange. “It’s so motivating to know they’re supporting you. They’re so excited for you no matter what.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, email@example.com and @cfreud.