Vail Mountain tops Coal Ridge 3-1 for league title
EAST VAIL — Bust out the orange. Vail Mountain School soccer is the best in the west after beating Coal Ridge, 3-1, on Wednesday afternoon at Bandoni Alumni Field.
The Gore Rangers won the 3A Western Slope for the second time in three years, wrestling the crown from the visiting Titans.
“It’s amazing. It feels so good, especially after losing to Coal Ridge last year,” VMS center-back Sammy Gish said.
Yes, exactly one year to the day, the Titans beat the Gore Rangers, 3-2, in overtime to capture the Slope.
Both teams will head to the 3A playoffs, starting a week from Friday.
It did not start auspiciously for VMS (11-2 overall, 9-0 in the 3A Slope). Coal Ridge’s Kaitlyn Harlow made a nice run down the right side crossing the ball through the box. Gore Rangers goalie Holly Parker mishandled the ball.
The Titans wisely followed the shot and Alyssa Wenzel jumped on the ball for a 1-0 lead.
This was the first time that VMS has trailed in league play. This also brought back some memories of the Gore Rangers loss to Dawson during the regular season last year, when Parker had a poor game only to rebound during a successful 2A playoff run.
To her credit, Parker rebounded within the game, making key saves later and VMS’ offense picked her up.
“You have to have that kind of confidence in each other, that mistakes are nothing we’re going to be concerned about,” VMS coach Bob Bandoni said. “We’re always going to be concerned with what’s in front of us. For Holly to respond the way she did is exactly where we want to be psychologically.”
Vail Mountain took over midway through the first half. Anwyn Urquhart blistered a corner kick from the right side and Maddy Cooper got her torso on it for the equalizer.
“We work on (set pieces) once a week when we’re not playing (three games in four days),” Urquhart said. “It’s really nice, when you get to that point, you know exactly what’s going on, where the ball is going to be played and where everyone is.”
Urquhart was on the receiving end of a Marley Chappel corner, giving the Gore Rangers the lead for good.
“They capitalized on two set pieces,” Coal Ridge coach Damon Martinez said. “That definitely gave them an advantage. I thought we had our chances. I thought it was a great game between two good teams. … Hats off to them.”
VMS struggled to get behind Coal Ridge’s backs in the first half. The Gore Rangers brought more midfielders into the attack and slowed it down during the final 40 minutes. Though it’s counterintuitive, that resulted in the highlight-reel goal of the day.
Emma Hall made a beautiful run down the right side and Chappel had an equally brilliant finish.
“EPL-like goal,” Bandoni said of the English Premier League that’s broadcast on NBC Sports Network. “That was like Saturday morning on Channel 52. That is the picture we’ve been teaching all year.”
While the offense stole the show, the two real heroines of this stretch of play — VMS beat Basalt, 4-2, on Tuesday — were Olivia Manula and Gish, the Gore Rangers’ center backs.
Bandoni is not a mean coach who left those two out there for the full 160 minutes between the two matches. As center backs, Manula and Gish are the quarterbacks/coaches on the field, and playing in back-to-back games like they did on Tuesday and Wednesday is a dress rehearsal for the playoffs next week.
“It’s hugely important,” Gish said. “If you can’t be fit enough to support your teammates, then you’re not fit enough to play soccer, especially as center backs.”
What says the RPI?
Coal Ridge finishes the regular season 10-5 and was No. 16 in the rating-percentage index before Wednesday’s game. Twenty-four teams qualify for the playoffs. VMS wraps the regular season by hosting 4A Summit County on Friday.
The Gore Rangers got a nice RPI bounce from beating Basalt on Tuesday, jumping from No. 19 to 13. They doubtless are hoping for a similar bump after topping the Titans.
“We did everything we could in our league,” Bandoni said. “And whoever wants to judge that with any calculus, let them at it.”
Martinez was also happy this was the last game of league play, a true playoff tuneup.
“I really enjoy playing Vail Mountain,” he said. “I’m glad we play them last. I’m glad it means something because both teams come out and get after it. There’s no better way to go into the playoffs than playing Vail Mountain. They’re a high level team. I think we’re a high level team. I hope we both do well and represent the Western Slope well.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, email@example.com and @cfreud.
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