Vail Valley preps: Devils and Mustangs meet again
GYPSUM, Colorado – If it’s the playoffs, it must be Eagle Valley-Mullen.
For the third time in four years, the two soccer teams will be meeting in the 4A state playoffs with the Mustangs hosting the Devils today at 3:15 p.m.
Mullen, ranked No. 3 at the time, blew out Eagle Valley, which was making its 4A playoff debut in 2006, 6-0, in the first meeting. Last year was payback as the No. 8 Devils took out the No. 9 Mustangs, 2-1.
Today, the Devils enter the quarterfinal match-up against No. 7 Mullen as the lowest seed remaining at No. 18. But as Eagle Valley’s 1-0 win Monday over No. 2 Wheat Ridge showed, not to mention the program’s success in the postseason the last two years, the Devils’ presence in the Elite Eight is not as much of a surprise as it might seem.
Though in seeding, it is a meeting of No. 18 and No. 7, the third meeting between the two teams is a meeting of equals. And that says quite a bit about how far Eagle Valley soccer has come in just a few years.
The Devils are in the 4A state playoffs for the fourth-straight year. In 2006, just making the playoffs was the goal. Though the team’s record that year was nothing special (7-7-1) by today’s standards, Eagle Valley made two big steps.
The first came gaainst Steamboat Springs, which has been a constant in the Slope race. Eagle Valley trailed the Sailors, 3-0, up north and came back for a 3-3 tie. Later in the year in Gypsum, the Devils showed that was no fluke, logging an impressive 4-1 win against Steamboat.
Despite this, Eagle Valley squeezed into the Slope’s fifth and final spot on the last day of the regular season with some help. The Devils controlled their postseason destiny, heading into the season finale, but lost to Glenwood Springs, 2-1.
The Devils left the pitch thinking they were done for the year. But Durango came to the rescue, knocking off Montezuma-Cortez, 2-0, and putting Eagle Valley in the playoffs for the first time in school history.
Eagle Valley’s reward was the 30th seed and a date at No. 3 Mullen. It wasn’t pretty. The Mustangs scored five first-half goals and won 6-0.
“I was pretty upset because I know we could play with (Mullen),” then-sophomore Cesar Castillo said. “We know we can do better than that. We’ll remember this.”
The next year, the Devils came out of the gate on fire with new coach Jason Rittmiller. But Eagle Valley saw a 3-0 start turn into an 0-3 one after using an ineligible player, and former NFL coach Jim Mora’s screeching, “Playoffs?” would have been appropriate as the Devils reached their nadir at 0-6.
Yet in another sign of things to come, Eagle Valley finished the season with a 6-0-2 run, qualifying for the postseason again. This time as a No. 25, the Devils met Montrose, and the Indians scored early and sat on it in a 1-0 win.
That 6-0-2 run at the end of 2007 was definitely the start of big things. Since starting that season 0-6, Eagle Valley is 32-6-5, going into today’s game. In 2008, that translated into the school’s first 4A Slope title and a No. 8 ranking. The moment the bracket came out, the Devils saw the possibility of a rematch with Mullen.
The Devils got it by downing Evergreen in Round 1, and doubled up the Mustangs, 2-1, on tallies by Marco Escobar and Castillo, who apparently did remember 2006. Goalie Trevor Grayson, who was in net as a sophomore in the blowout, ended up making the save of the game on Nick Brant in the 79th minute.
Here we go again. Due to last week’s snowstorm scrambling the Round 2 schedule, Mullen, having played on Saturday, was at Monday’s Eagle Valley-Wheat Ridge game.
“It is really ironic,” Mullen coach Sean Keefe said. “As high school kids, they think it’s nice to do it again. They appreciate the chance. It was a great game last year and the guys came away with a healthy respect for Eagle Valley At a team dinner tonight, we were talking, ‘How amazing. Here were are playing again.'”
The feeling was much the same in the Devils’ camp after Monday’s win.
There will be some familiar faces for Eagle Valley fans heading down to Denver today. Mullen’s goalie is still Phil Rendell. The team’s top scorers are Austin Bell, Kenneth Clavizio and Jared Roberts. The last name on that list should ring a bell. Roberts scored Mullen’s goal on a penalty kick in last year’s match.
“We’re excited,” Rittmiller said. “It was a fairly even game last year. I assume that it will be a different type of game this year because teams change.”
Mullen finished fourth in the 5A Centennial League before dropping down to the 4A playoff bracket. The Mustangs are 11-4-1 after playoff wins against John F. Kennedy and Centaurus.
Eagle Valley sits at 12-3-2 after avenging the 2007 playoff loss to Montrose, upending the Indians, 3-2, and downing No. 2 Wheat Ridge.
Given their recent encounters, both sides have an understandably healthy respect for each other.
“It’s the same mindset as last year,” Keefe said. “We don’t take them lightly. If anything, they’re a scary team. Their midfield is really incredible. There are no gimmes. They’re a side for whom we have a lot of respect.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.