Vail Mountain runs the table in the Slope
EAST VAIL — They may be heading to the 2A playoffs, but the Gore Rangers are the champions of the 3A Slope.
Vail Mountain School girls soccer won its first league title in school history with two goals within three minutes in the second half on Tuesday in a 2-1 win over Coal Ridge on the rarefied grounds of Bandoni Alumni Field in East Vail.
The only other times a VMS team won a soccer title — the gents won the 1989 Western Central Soccer League and 1990 Northwestern League — a Clinton was running for the White House and the Gore Rangers head coach was obsessing over Boston sports teams.
OK, kids, telephones were attached to walls and when watching television, one had to watch the actual television from a limited number of channels.
“It’s amazing,” senior Kristen Vossler said, channeling her inner Herb Brooks. “I told the team before the game, ‘Great moments come from great opportunity,’ the quote from ‘Miracle.’ I think it’s really amazing to see how far we’ve developed from last year to this year and how a group of girls came together from two different schools, four countries into one team to win it.”
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That would be VMS and the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy and the United States, Mexico, Germany and China, for those scoring at home.
Bob Bandoni, who, yes, coached those 1989 and 1990 title teams at VMS, pronounced it “special,” and had a group hug with the brain trust, assistant coaches Sylvan Ellefson, Chris Woods and Kaitlin Zdechlik and anyone else there.
As for Coal Ridge (11-4 overall and 9-1 in the Slope), it was a tough way to end the regular season.
“We struggled to possess the ball,” Titans coach Micah Herron said. “There wasn’t a whole lot of possession overall. We got lucky — a little bounce got through, a little breakaway and score. … They overlapped and we had a hard time picking it up. We tried to pick it up, but they came out in the second half and wanted it more and brought it to us.”
Speed and ‘The Karate Kid’
The 3A Slope is made of the haves and have-nots, and when the haves get together, it’s a good game. Coal Ridge broke the seal in the 14th minute with Sam Dunn sending it to Mariela Martinez on the aforementioned breakaway.
Despite being on the wrong end of the scoreboard, Vail Mountain (12-1, 10-0) had the better part of the possession in the first 40 minutes. There just wasn’t enough of an attacking presence to capitalize on it.
“What I feel really good about is that at halftime, we come in and we’re losing, and we’re losing to a team that’s walking through the league, and, for all intents and purposes, wins the 3A (league) every year,” Bandoni said. “But our players were poised enough to have confidence in the way we were playing.”
Vail Mountain School’s attack sped up and its defense pressed the Titans when they had the ball. And that inevitably cracked the puzzle.
In the 61st, the Gore Rangers’ Emma Hall sent it to the top of the box to Griffin Mueller, who sent it home.
“I hit it, trying to keep my ankle across the plane,” Mueller said. “That’s what I’ve been working on.”
Just a minute or two later, Olivia Giacco fed Tess Johnson for a thundering finish.
“Tess is like the little Karate Kid,” Mueller joked.
“She’s best,” Vossler said. “It was fantastic and I almost teared up during the game.”
The reason there was so much emotion is that Coal Ridge is the gold standard of the 3A Slope. Until Tuesday, the Titans were 34-0-2 during the past four years of league play and the two-time defending champs. (The two draws were Aspen and VMS in 2012, and those ties gave the Skiers the crown that year.)
“They’re a quality club,” Herron said. “They’re well-coached, well-disciplined and we’re going to see teams like them. (VMS) is young, so they’ve got a bright future. We’ve gotta to go back and make adjustments. We didn’t bring it today.”
Both teams will go to playoffs. The draws come out Sunday on http://www.chsaa.org.
Coal Ridge, despite the loss, will be the top team out of the Slope (or Region 3) for 3A purposes. Three of the Titans’ four losses are to the 4A Slope champs, Battle Mountain, the 3A Slope Champs, VMS, and the No. 4-ranked team in 3A, Kent Denver, not a resume of which to be ashamed.
On the other hand, with 3A selecting four schools to host the first two rounds on Friday and Saturday of next week, the Titans will likely be hitting the road.
VMS should be home for the playoffs. The question is when? Twelve 2A teams make the playoffs and the Gore Rangers are in, having clinched the 2A Region title. Seed nos. 5-12 play on Tuesday with the top-four teams in the classification getting a bye and a home game in the quarters one week from Friday.
VMS is both No. 2 in 2A the CHSAA Poll (non-binding) and in the 2A maxpreps.com rankings (not completely binding, but important).
The CHSAA bulletin states “The Maxpreps Rankings published the Sunday of the seeding committee meeting will be the primary seeding consideration.”
The Gore Rangers head to Alexander Dawson (No. 4 in the CHSAA and maxpreps polls) on Friday.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, email@example.com and @cfreud.