Girls Soccer Reclaims State Championship for Sixth Title

In the opening minutes of their bid for a sixth CHSAA Class 3A Girls Soccer State Championship on May 21, 2024, the Colorado Academy Varsity Girls Soccer team looked slightly surprised. Their opponent, the No. 2 seed and defending champion Jefferson Academy Jaguars, had come out hot, and would rack up 18 shots on No. 1-seeded CA’s net throughout the course of a rainy and windy evening at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. 

But somehow, it was the undefeated Mustangs who in the end walked away with a 3-1 victory to claim CA’s first State Title in five years.

The game’s scorers, Senior co-captain Naomi Wolff and Sophomore Lyla Kocher, celebrate the win.

There’s not much real mystery about how the Varsity girls stole this win out from under Jefferson: Junior goalkeeper Lucy Garnsey denied all but one of those 18 Jaguar attempts, meaning CA’s three goals on a handful of shots were plenty to garner the team its sixth Championship. Garnsey’s heroic effort earned her the night’s Sportswomen of Colorado Most Outstanding Player Award and put the Mustangs once again on top of their perennial rival.

Junior goalkeeper Lucy Garnsey gets the hero’s treatment.

“In the game of soccer,” says CA Head Coach Sean Stedeford, “sometimes things go your way, and our goalkeeper was outstanding.”

Of course, those three Mustang goals were important, too. Exercising patience and precision targeting while exploiting open spaces in the opponent’s defense, Senior co-captain Naomi Wolff scored two, and Sophomore Lyla Kocher another to put a bow on Varsity Soccer’s perfect season. 

“I don’t think this team cared who was on the other side of the field,” relates Stedeford. “They attacked every opponent with the same respect, and they prepared the same way.”

Throughout their 19-0 season, Wolff led CA’s high-intensity offense, which Stedeford says has much in common with the legendary German coach Jürgen Klopp’s “heavy-metal” style. Forward pressing, quick transitions, movement, and speed are key to this brand of soccer.

“From the beginning of the season, this has been the dream,” said Wolff after the game. “I always knew that our soccer was there; we just had to be there with our mindset as well. Today, we were.”

Like many of her teammates, Wolff had been within reach of the title before: Jefferson defeated CA twice over the past two years in the semifinals. But this time, she said, “It’s my Senior year, and you can’t go out any other way than with the trophy.”

Wolff and Senior co-captain Winnie Fenton with the trophy

According to Garnsey, “Our team has worked so hard all season to reach this point. It was a really special group of players this year, and we all did it together.”

There was much that was special about this Championship win. All season long, Garnsey was mentored in goal by longtime CA Assistant Coach Zuriel Lozano, who had been part of a State Title win when his son, Jaden, played for the undefeated Mustangs in 2021. Now, Jaden was by his side as a coaching assistant, and father and son got to experience another special victory together before Jaden departs for Europe on May 31 to start his professional soccer career.

Jaden Lozano, left, watches the action along with the team.

“Winning a State Championship with the CA Varsity girls after an undefeated season with my son, not as his coach, but as my colleague, is unlike any other feeling in the world,” Lozano says.

And what Garnsey displayed against the Jaguars was unlike any other CA goaltending performance in recent memory. According to Stedeford, “A performance like Lucy’s in a State Championship game doesn’t happen by accident. This is someone who has put in the work, listened, and learned so much from Coach Z. And then all of a sudden, on the biggest stage in high school sports, she shines the brightest.”

Trying to quantify what Garnsey brought to the field, Stedeford goes on, “Z. gives her confidence in training, which in turn she gives to the team. Whether it’s a defensive misstep or a quick counter-attack, knowing Lucy’s behind them means our players never feel scared. And she’s so effective, she makes other teams play differently against us.”

Amazingly, Lozano was also part of the story when Julia Murphy ’15, Stedeford’s assistant coach for the past two years, won her own soccer State Championship with the Mustangs in her Senior year. A star with both the Soccer and Field Hockey programs who went to seven final matchups with CA, winning five of them, Murphy was brought on specifically because she could help this year’s squad train mentally for another Championship run. She may now be the only CA alumna to win State Titles as both a player and a coach.

“Being undefeated was never the goal,” explains Stedeford. “All we wanted to do throughout the spring was build momentum. We started practice every day with two words: ‘Begin again.’ We were constantly trying to call out the good things our girls were doing to reinforce the positive growth we were hoping to see.”

Julia Murphy ’15 during the 2014-15 season

According to Murphy, “About halfway through the season, Sean and I looked at each other and said, ‘This could be the year.’ He was my coach at CA, and we always joked about how good our team was then, but the reality is that this year’s team had an incredible skillset, and all they needed was the confidence and the belief that they could do it.”

One of the most important things she had to offer, Murphy realized, was sharing with the team what it’s like to be part of a Championship-winning squad. “I told the girls, ‘Have no regrets at the end of the day. Later in your lives, you will think back to these moments.’”

Murphy often reflects on her own wins and the teammates she played with. “What’s so special about athletics at CA is how much we love each other as competitors. Just as it was when I was in uniform, these girls are truly selfless—they do it for each other. I think that’s why we’ve had so much success.”

Before the game against Jefferson, Murphy points out, every CA player penned the name and jersey number of another teammate in marker on their leg. “They’re showing that they’re playing for someone else, which was just so inspiring to see.”

Murphy counted on team co-captains Wolff and Winnie Fenton all season to lead the way in creating the right kind of environment for that to thrive, “in which every player felt included and welcome, regardless of how much game time they actually saw.”

Stedeford depended on his Seniors for leadership both on and off the field, and he deliberately assigned Fenton jersey #11, the same number that has belonged to past star players, leaders, and at least one CA All-American, Marin McCoy ’15. “Your time in the jersey is your time, and then you’ve got to pass it on, leaving it in a better place than you found it.”

And now, Stedeford adds, jersey #8 will gain in significance: That’s Wolff’s number, and whoever wears it next will undoubtedly be inspired by Wolff’s contributions to Girls Soccer at CA.

“There’s no guarantee of a repeat next year,” Stedeford cautions. But with so many jersey numbers laden with meaning—and the knowledge that the Mustangs did and can again win the State Championship—the team will start next season with the huge advantage of belief.