COMMERCE CITY -- Coming off consecutive postseason shutouts, the Boulder boys soccer team's defense came up with another impressive showing in the Class 5A championship game against Smoky Hill.
Facing another one of the state's best teams, the Panthers defensive line held off the Buffaloes attack for a 3-1 win and the school's first boys soccer state title.
"Our whole team plays defense. It's a team effort," junior center back Kevin Van Lieshout said. "Everyone worked hard and we played with love and effort. We really brought it tonight. We worked together and we stopped them as a team tonight."
Stopping the Buffaloes offense meant stopping senior forward Jeff Gillis, who led all 5A players with 21 goals during the 2012 season.
Whether he was making runs down the center or trying to create on the ball, Gillis was routinely met by a Panthers defender. Senior defensive back Rojan Shrestha got physical with Gillis in the opening minutes and Luis Castruita took him down again cleanly later in the first half.
Gillis finished with just two shots on goal, none in the first half. Defending the state's top 5A scorer, according to senior defensive captain Cory Waltrip, was not a matter of adjusting to his game but rather one of the Panthers focusing on playing their own game the way they had against other top offensive threats.
Waltrip said winning the state title was a dream of his since he played U-11s and Monday's victory was the greatest feeling in the world. He was proud to see that his team was confident enough in its defensive system not to have to bring an extra player back to mark Gillis man-to-man.
"We were prepared for it after playing Eric Kronenberg from Fairview in the last game," Waltrip said. "I honestly think he was the perfect practice for it. We dropped our line back like last time and we did what we needed to do."
The Panthers defense got a little help from the players up top, as well. Javier Castruita's goal in the 7th minute allowed the Panthers to sit back in a defensive formation. In their defensive, counterattacking posture, senior forward Lake Brant scored two more goals in the 51st and 53rd minutes, giving them plenty of room to work and be aggressive.
Marquise Spinuzzi scored the Buffaloes only goal with eight seconds left. In all, the Buffaloes managed just six shots on goal, half of which came in the final two minutes.
The Panthers defense was so stout that junior goalkeeper Henry Huettel said he caught himself zoning out several times despite being amidst the state championship environment.
"I had to bring myself back," said Huettel, who posted shutouts in the semifinals and quarterfinals. "That last goal, I was already in celebration mode."
Coming a long way with the Panthers
When Panthers assistant coach Chris LaPointe played for Boulder High in '04 and '05, winning a state championship wasn't something they even bothered to talk about.
It wasn't a possibility for him as a player. But LaPointe finally got his wish as a 26-year-old assistant coach.
"In my time there was nothing like this," LaPointe said.
LaPointe helped head coach Hardy Kalisher during his second season as head coach in 2007. LaPointe left the program for a spell. But when he returned several years later, he found a completely different soccer culture at Boulder High.
"What he did in those four years was amazing," LaPointe said. "There were students at the games and there was a feeling of hope that was never there before. When you have that hope, anything is possible. That's the main difference, I would say, accepting that it was possible."
Kalisher said having former players like LaPointe and Martin Orona coaching in the program is an integral part of the Panthers' recent success.
"I always want to bring in guys that played in the program to pass on life lessons," Kalisher said. "They come in and they say, 'I owe this program.' And they share that with the team."
LaPointe said all his friends, teammates and other alumni began getting back in touch with him this season to ask what was going on with the soccer team.
For many of the Panthers players and coaches, winning the 5A state title felt like a victory for the entire city of Boulder and not just the high school that bears its name. LaPointe said growing up in Boulder and being around the soccer community for so long made finally bringing home a state title more special than he could articulate.
But he gave it a shot.
"It's amazing for the whole community," LaPointe said. "Like Hardy says, with love and respect for each other, we got it done."
State championship worm
Winning a state title is enough to make just about any coach cut a rug. For Hardy Kalisher, his title-toting dance routine was a long time coming.
Kalisher had plenty of time to practice. His jig of choice: The worm.
In 2006, word of Kalisher's abilities got out to the Panthers and a campaign began to convince their coach to do the worm in front of the team. The word leaked out again this season and Kalisher promised the Panther he'd do the worm on the field at Dick's Sporting Goods Park if they won if they won the state championship.
The Panther held up their end of the bargain and then flanked by his cheering players, Kalisher wormed Soul Train-style down the length of his team with victorious swagger.
"I'm not gonna turn them down when they win the state championship," Kalisher said. "They did everything I asked of them so I'll go ahead and embarrass myself and do the worm."
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