Vail Mountain, Aspen tie; Coal Ridge wins title |

Vail Mountain, Aspen tie; Coal Ridge wins title

Jon Maletz
Vail, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Vail Mountain School was the lone squad to finish without a loss in 3A Western Slope play.

Still, the Gore Rangers will head into next week’s state playoffs as the league’s No. 2 seed. Head coach Bob Bandoni and his team knew what was at stake in Thursday’s regular-season finale in Aspen. They knew a win would clinch the program’s first league crown.

It would have taken just one goal to fulfill that objective – one goal VMS could not produce. After 80 hard-fought minutes of regulation and two tense, five-minute overtimes, the Skiers and Gore Rangers settled for a scoreless draw. At 10-2-2 overall and 7-0-2 in league play, VMS had to settle for second place, too – by the slimmest of margins.

By virtue of its 3-0 home victory over Basalt in other action Thursday, Coal Ridge (13-2, 8-1) secured a third consecutive Slope title with 24 points -one more than the Gore Rangers. (Conference wins count for three points, while ties garner one.)

Basalt (10-4-1, 7-1-1) wound up third, with 22 points, and Aspen (8-5-1, 6-2-1) took fourth.

“There’s obvious parity in this league with the top four teams. We feel as though the results are fair enough,” Bandoni said. “Of course, it would’ve been nice if we could’ve shaped up a little more on the final third of the field, but they played very hard against a tough opponent.”

VMS struck for two early goals and was rarely tested in Monday’s 3-0 home win over Aspen.

Thursday’s match had a different feel from the outset, Bandoni said.

“We were able to play within in our system a little bit better Monday than we were today. They disrupted us quite a bit,” he said. “Aspen played us really tough in the middle. It was hard for us to find any rhythm.

“It wasn’t a really well-played match, on either side. The ball never settled down.”

Still, both squads generated some prime scoring chances during a physical first half. The Skiers’ Julia Mueller-Ristine fired a shot from right of the net that rolled mere feet outside the far post in the 25th minute, and then Hayley Kremer had an attempt smothered by Gore Rangers goalkeeper Clare Elitch a short time later.

VMS’ best scoring opportunity came in the waning minutes of the half, when Katie Scruggs controlled a pass on the right side of the 18, slipped past a defender and fired a liner that Aspen goalkeeper Sally McGuren confidently gloved with both hands.

“The girls played hard today and used their heads,” Skiers head coach John Gillies said. “We didn’t make the most of our chances, but I’m pleased.”

Gore Rangers freshman Maggie Sherman had a wide-open boot sail wide right about 18 minutes into a second half played primarily at midfield.

Both overtimes passed with little drama – save for a powerful liner from about 20 yards out off a direct kick from VMS’ Emily Bandoni in the waning moments of the second extra frame; McGuren tracked the shot the whole way, however, corralling it without incident.

The Gore Rangers pushed one of their backs up to the front in the match’s final minutes, to no avail.

“We didn’t want a tie. We wanted to win. We were pretty hopeful and thought we could get a goal,” Bob Bandoni said. “We were beginning to create more toward the end of the game, but we couldn’t finish.

“It’s alright. We showed the same kind of grit we showed all season. I told the players they should have no regrets. We’re excited to represent this league in the postseason.”

State playoff brackets are slated to be released Sunday afternoon.

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