DENVER -- After replacing nearly his entire lineup from last season, Boulder boys soccer coach Hardy Kalisher figured there would be no better way to find out what sort of competitiveness burned within his new starters than by scheduling some of the state's top programs right out of the gate.
The early slate was uniquely challenging, and the results at times were frustrating to the Panthers. Yet despite a rugged 1-0 loss on Saturday at defending Class 5A state champion Denver East, this week Boulder has shown signs that it will be a force to reckon with in the Front Range League.
"Ultimately we really only had one returning starter in our keeper, and early on we've just been figuring out the pieces," Kalisher said. "To go up against the No. 1, and have the confidence in it and the swagger in it, I think we played them even and went toe-to-toe."
Boulder opened the season with a 1-0 loss at Heritage, the 2011 5A state runner-up, before suffering a 2-0 defeat against perennial power Cherry Creek. The Panthers posted their first win against Arvada West, which qualified for the 5A state tournament last year, before enduring a 3-1 loss against defending Class 4A state champion Mullen.
This week, however, Boulder has started putting the pieces together. The Panthers opened league play on Thursday against No. 6-ranked Fort Collins and recorded a 5-0 win, getting five different goal-scorers after managing just two goals in their first four games.
Although Boulder was unable to get the result it wanted on Saturday, the Panthers gave the state's top-ranked team all it could handle. Goalkeeper Henry Huettel kept Boulder in the game by recording seven saves while diffusing several other East scoring chances by smothering crossing passes and lead balls.
The Angels finally broke the scoreless tie in the 52nd minute, as Elias Helbig redirected a cross from Austin Neuriter past Huettel.
Boulder (2-4) resumes Front Range League play on Tuesday with a road match against undefeated Loveland, which has not allowed a goal in its five victories.
"Heading into the conference schedule, I think we've been competitive in just about every game," Kalisher said. "We play Denver East in nonconference every year for that reason, and I don't think it ever has been decided by more than one goal. We played Fort Collins, who played (East) tight, and now it's a conference game and we kind of had an idea with what we were doing.
"I think it was mission accomplished, and we got a lot of experience. There is a lot of pride on the team. Their heads are high, and we feel like we're going to compete in the league."
Follow Pat Rooney on Twitter: @prooney07
Denver East 1, Boulder 0
At Denver East H.S.
Boulder (2-4) 0 0 -- 0
Denver East (3-0) 0 1 -- 1
Goals (assists) -- Denver East: Helbig (Neuriter), 52nd minute.
Goalkeepers (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) -- Boulder: Huettel (80-1-7); Denver East: McDonald (80-0-3).