Vail Mountain School knocks off two-time defending state champions Kent Denver 2-0
Sun Devils were the No. 2-ranked team in the state coming into Saturday's 3A clash
Last year, Vail Mountain School’s girls soccer team was hoping they’d get a shot at Kent Denver, but a 5-3 loss to Lutheran in the state quarterfinals eliminated the Gore Rangers as the Sun Devils went onto claim their second-straight 3A state title. On Saturday, the 3A clash finally materialized — and VMS made the most of it.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Stella Stone said after her team’s 2-0 home win over the No. 2-ranked Kent Denver squad. “I definitely felt like a lot of us were pretty nervous for this game and we really stepped up our game today and delivered.”
Stone scored the game’s first goal, rattling a corner kick off a defender and into the net at the 33-minute mark of the first half.
“At first I was thinking of trying to send it in so someone could get a header, but then I saw that everyone was shifted too far back, so I just tried to chip it in as a little curving ball and it worked out,” the senior said of the rare goal. “It was pretty insane.”
Throughout the first half, the Sun Devils kept play in their end, but failed to create any serious opportunities until 13:58 remaining when Sadie Fitzpatrick launched a grounder to the left corner. Gore Ranger goalie Frankie Marston dove low for the save. With 11:22 to go, Stone’s free kick went high, and the first-half buzzer sounded with 1-0 on the scoreboard. VMS coach Bob Bandoni admitted the Sun Devils’ were able to control things maybe a bit more than they should have.
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“We weren’t as organized as we could be in the midfield,” he critiqued. “We had players that were hiding sometimes on the field and they weren’t giving us easy possession, which we’re used to.” The Gore Rangers also struggled to step defensively as a unit. “Our timing was off defensively,” Bandoni continued. “Sometimes they were getting easier possession through the middle of the field than we want.”
In the second, Vail Mountain turned the toughness tide and consequently won more of the little battles.
“In training we focused a lot on defending and overloading when they have the ball,” Stone said. “So, one person stepping and two coming in behind as supporting defenders, so we would kind of almost smother them and get the ball back and that worked really well.”
The Sun Devils missed on a pair of free kicks, with midfielder Eilee Matsuyama’s shot going just over the left side early in the half and Megan Ho’s getting blocked by a Gore Ranger wall with 24:30 to go. Eight minutes later, Avery Schaffler, lined up for her own free kick right outside the box.
“I asked the ref, ‘can I just go?'” Schaffler recalled. “I set the ball down and they were still setting up and I was like ‘OK, might as well go while they’re distracted.'” She lofted the ball right over the goalie’s head to the rear left corner.
“It was super surprising. I was shocked that it went in,” the VSSA student, who played at Battle Mountain last year, stated. Even as a newcomer to the 3A league, Schaffler recognized the significance of the win.
“I think it was pretty sick to beat a team that did super well in the 3A state championship last year,” she said, adding that her acculturation to the VMS way has been pretty seamless.
“I think they’ve definitely let me join in with them super well,” she said. “It was very easy to feel welcomed here.”
“She is team-oriented, she’s generous on the field and in spirit,” Bandoni added. “She holds people to a high level, but she does so in a way that still works to assimilate other players, especially other players.”
Schaffler’s score would seal the deal as Matsuyama’s breakaway with 20 seconds remaining was scooped up by Marston, who finished with a shutout.
“I thought our backs and our keeper played really well together,” Bandoni said. “They were systematic, and so we leave the game feeling that is a really measurable growth variable we could see.”
Though the signature victory was arguably the Gore Rangers’ most significant regular season win in a while, Bandoni said he and his group don’t care if it puts the rest of the state on notice or not.
“You know we don’t and that’s where we get back to process before outcome,” he said.
“For us, we always put process before results and so we’re coming out of this game looking at our own standards of play — both defending and attacking and transition — and we’re leaving the game with a lot of notes,” he said.
“We have to analyze ourselves and do it truthfully so that those notes we do take are ones that we can use in training,” the coach continued. “But you also have to have hope and that comes from the degree of grit that you can see in every player on the field.”
Schaffler agreed. When asked what she felt the storyline of the game was, she said, “I would say grit; there was a lot of grit from us. I know possession for us was way lower than Kent Denver but we also like to fight.”
With the win, No. 4 Vail Mountain improved to 6-0. For the Gore Rangers, however, win-loss records can be a metric — and also sometimes an imposter. Thus, they choose to focus their energy elsewhere.
“I think we can always do better,” Stone said. “I think today we showed ourselves that we could play the hard teams and we can keep up with them and I believe next time we can possess more and score more.”
Bandoni said each athletes’ genuine attention to improvement and details over stats is what makes them so enjoyable to work with.
“They believe that, they live by it and I can feel it when we’re training,” he said. “There’s no arrogance on this team. They’re humble to the game and the space between where we are and where we think our potential is, and that to me is what encourages us to get on the pitch every day.”