At the 3A State Girls Soccer Championship, a scoreless first period only heightened the feeling in Dick’s Sporting Goods Park that whichever team scored first would own the night.
When the Colorado Academy Mustangs came back on the field after the half-time break, they brought rekindled fire to a snow-ringed field. Within 20 minutes into the period, they scored the first goal, the second, and the third, shutting out Jefferson Academy, the only team that had beaten them during the 20-game regular season, and bringing the State Soccer Championship to CA.
“During the half-time break, we talked about the strength of our team and finding our rhythm,” says CA Girls Soccer Coach Sean Stedeford. “We challenged the girls to set the pace in the first 10 minutes of the second half.”
And set the pace they did, right on schedule. Nearly nine minutes into the half, Sophomore Maya Pellegrini went down on the ground—not for the first time during the night—and the referee pulled a yellow card on the Jefferson Academy player.
“Maya is a tough kid,” Stedeford says. “She has power and pacing and gets behind defenders, and they resort to fouling her.”
The foul led to a set piece taken by Senior Mari Annest. She curved her shot to the right side of the goal and put CA on the scoreboard. “When that goal went in, it looked like the team was shot from a cannon,” Stedeford says.
“I’ve been pretty solid on set pieces right outside the box for most of the season,” Annest says. “I saw it, I knew where I wanted to put it and got lucky, maybe? The keeper got a touch, but I was so incredibly excited it went in.”
With one goal on the board, the Mustangs turned up the heat and stepped up the pace of the game. Eight minutes after her first goal, Annest scored again from 23 yards out. “She smashed it,” Stedeford says. “That was a world-class once-in-a-lifetime goal.”
Not to be outdone, within three minutes, Senior Co-Captain Catie Groves also scored. “It was a great team goal,” Stedeford says. “The ball was passed several times, Maya laid it off to Catie, and Catie sent it into the net.” Stedeford also calls Groves “the driving force of the team all season” for her leadership and dedication.
CA owned the second half of the game with Jefferson Academy, the Class 3A defending champion, spending very little time on offense. Any drive they attempted was quickly shut down by CA Junior goalkeeper Juliet Cramer and Sophomore defender Paige Stanton.
‘A great night’
Four minutes from the end of the game, Stedeford began pulling the Seniors out of the game, first Co-Captain Lily Fox and then Groves and Annest. “It was a fitting way for them to end their career,” he says. “It was a way to honor them.” The enthusiastic CA crowd cheered and chanted for each Senior.
“This team wanted it so bad,“ says Annest, who scored 39 goals during her Senior season and will play soccer for Northwestern University next year. “To know that we made history for our school, that’s unbelievable.”
Stedeford calls this a “special season of firsts, not just because they won, but how they won—with class, determination, and a warrior spirit.” The team was undefeated against all the 5A schools they played, nationally ranked (third in the west) for the first time in program history, victorious over their archrival for the first time in four years, and State Champions for the fifth time.
“I told the girls I had never been more proud to be the coach of their program than at that championship game,” Stedeford says. “It was a great night.”
A number of CA players received post-season honors.
All Conference First Team: Catie Groves, Mari Annest
All Conference Second Team: Kendall Beall, Paige Stanton
CHSCA All-State First Team: Catie Groves, Mari Annest, Kendall Beall, and Maya Pellegrini
3A CHSCA Coach of the Year and United Soccer Coaches Private/Parochial Coach of the Year: Sean Stedeford
3A Player of the Year: Catie Groves
3A First Team: Kendall Beall, Maya Pellegrini, Mari Annest
3A Coach of the Year: Sean Stedeford
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