Vail Mountain School boys lacrosse defeats Middle Park 10-4 in first round of 4A state tournament
No. 9-seeded Gore Rangers will take on No. 8 Air Academy in Frioday's second round
Vail Mountain School boys lacrosse coach Stephen Michel was going to address his team before taking the field for Tuesday’s playoff matchup against Middle Park, but when he saw the look on their faces, he could tell a repeat of last year’s first-round loss to Aspen wasn’t going to happen.
“They came out of the locker room so fired up and we were like, ‘you guys are ready to play playoff lacrosse — let’s go,'” Michel said after his team’s 10-4 win. “And we just sent them out. It was the senior leadership that got them all fired up and they came ready to play. Last year, we weren’t ready.”
Perhaps the Gore Rangers’ confidence was buoyed by the fact that they have the Panthers’ number. Ten days after Mason Geller racked up 10 goals and five assists in a 16-7 victory, the Gore Rangers burst out to a 6-1 lead in their final home game of 2023.
Charlie Vidal scored three first-half goals as Geller — with three first-half assists — did most of his damage throughout the game passing the ball. Erik Jaerbyn added two goals of his own in the opening two quarters, including one that sent the blue and white into halftime with some momentum. After defenseman Nolan Kim used his lethal speed to go the length of the field, he found Jaerbyn on a cross-field pass for the layup from the right side. The well-oiled Gore Ranger offense and stingy defense bullied the undersized attackers for the No. 24-seeded Panthers, who were fielding their first varsity lacrosse team this 2023 season.
Geller got on the board to open the second half, but Middle Park’s Ethan Boeckers responded immediately to make it 8-3 with 7:30 remaining in the third. The VMS offense slowed down in the third, failing to connect on multiple reversals in their offensive zone. Middle Park couldn’t do much either, however, until sophomore Jordan Anderson found the back of the net with six seconds to go.
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“We weren’t taking care of the ball and valuing the ball as much as we should have,” Michel said of the muddy third period. He pulled several starters at the end of the quarter, though it wasn’t all performance-related.
“We wanted to give our young players an opportunity and get our seniors in,” Michel explained when asked what the calculus was behind the decision, considering it was only a four-point advantage at that juncture. The bench brought a nice spark.
Ninety seconds into the fourth, Jack Schwarz found Connor Cooley in the middle of the field, 15 yards from the net for a waist-high sidearm into the back of the net. When the starters came back in, Geller found Max Vidal for the game’s final score and the 10-4 win. With the victory, No. 9 VMS improves to 11-4 and advances to face No. 8 Air Academy, which received a first-round bye, in the second round of the 4A state tournament on Friday.
With an 8-6 record, the Kadets might not intimidate anyone without looking under the hood of the schedule. They’re 4-1 in a league won by the No. 1 team in the state, Cheyenne Mountain. Michel knows extending the season with a road win on Friday isn’t going to be easy.
“They are very athletic. They’ve got players who play all year round,” Michel said. “Their sticks are excellent, they can all go righty-lefty, when they throw a pass, it’s right where it needs to be. They’ll be a challenge, but they’re not unbeatable.”
The recipe for success? The second-year coach believes one key ingredient will be replicating the energy his team had coming onto the field Tuesday night.
“If we come out with the intensity we had today, there’s no reason we can’t beat them and move on.”