Roaring Fork run to 3A soccer state title game has been several years in the making
The state championship-bound Roaring Fork High School boys soccer team has something to prove this season.
After graduating most of a senior-heavy team last year — and after bowing out of the state playoffs in the semifinals that year and the quarterfinals the year before that — the 2019 contingent of Rams are out to make a name for themselves.
“I feel like a lot of the guys this year kind of came out of their shell,” senior Connor Brennan said Thursday as the team went through final drills in preparation for a 3A title game matchup with defending state champion Kent Denver on Saturday morning.
Game time is 11 a.m. for the No. 5 Rams versus the No. 2 Sun Devils at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City.
INTO THEIR OWN
“We only had three non-senior starters last year, and so we really had to step it up this year and show that we were just as good as the seniors who left,” Brennan said. “It feels really good to finally get there; like all the effort and work we put in over the past few years is finally coming together.”
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It’s also been a building process for seventh-year coach Nick Forbes who, after four straight years sending a Roaring Fork team into the playoffs, has the Rams playing for a state title.
“This team has showed some pretty incredible perseverance,” Forbes said of a varsity squad that has almost as many underclassmen starting as juniors and seniors.
The Rams’ 2-1 win over No. 1 Salida in the semifinals on Wednesday was a great example.
Scoreless through more than 75 minutes of play, Roaring Fork suddenly found itself down 1-0 with time ticking away. But the Rams, thanks to the foot of sophomore Ross Barlow, tied it with just over a minute in regulation.
Then, Barlow’s penalty kick in overtime was golden, giving the win to Roaring Fork and a shot at the state title.
“To carry through that way shows the perseverance,” Forbes said.
Barlow and senior Dylan Webster have been the team leaders all season on the scoring front, with 18 and 14 goals, respectively.
But a good bit of the Rams’ scoring also came from freshman Emiliano Magana, who netted eight goals.
“It’s great to play with this group, and it makes me a better player and helps me improve my skills,” Magana said. “The coaches here are really good, and my teammates keep me motivated to get better.”
Forbes hands it to the All-Valley Select Soccer Club for developing young players and helping to feed the area high school teams.
“They keep pumping out talent, and we keep profiting from that,” Forbes said. “It’s pretty awesome as a coach when you have well-developed players, because the coaching becomes less instructional and more about how to use these players to best get results.”
Solidifying the Roaring Fork team effort has been a staunch backline and middle field that controls the tempo and limits its opponents’ scoring chances. The Rams have an impressive goals-against average this season of just 1.1, and junior goalkeeper Noah Wheeless has recorded 65 saves on the season.
Senior Johnny Delgado transferred to Roaring Fork last year, but had to wait it out on the junior varsity squad during the Rams’ 2018 semifinal run due to the Colorado High School Activities Association transfer eligibility rules.
“This has been my dream, and it’s been everyone’s dream since eighth grade that when you get to high school you can play for a state championship,” Delgado said.
“It’s been a huge team effort … and I’m proud of all the effort.”
The Rams know they’ll have to be on top of their game to dethrone perennial soccer powerhouse Kent Denver.
“No doubt, they’re one of the best in the state, and we need to be really focused,” Brennan said.
Forbes remembers that two of the Sun Devils’ top players were sophomore sensations two years ago when Roaring Fork lost 3-1 to Kent Denver in the 3A quarterfinals.
“They’re good players, and they have the resources behind them,” Forbes said. “So, that perseverance is going to be huge. If we can hang in there and show them what we can do, that’s going to be key.”
A strong contingent of Carbondale fans also plans to make the trip over to Denver for the big game. That support has also been part of the team’s success, Forbes said.
“It’s a real testament to our community,” he said. “There are a lot of bonds that connect us demographically, with our Latino and Anglo cultures. This town does a really nice job of bringing those cultures together and bridging those gaps. And that shows in our team.”
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The teams aren’t vying to one up the other in the rankings or looking to get a leg up in the league standings this fall, but that will hardly make the stakes any less meaningful for Basalt and Glenwood Springs high schools when they meet on the football field Friday night.