BOULDER — The Boulder Panthers know what is coming.
How they deal with it, will define their 2017 season.
On Thursday night at Recht Field, the defending Class 5A champs looked every bit the team that a majority of the state thinks has the fire power to repeat.
Against a Heritage side that did all they could to try and knock the Panthers off their game physically, Boulder didn't seem fazed and made the visiting Eagles pay for their aggression with a 3-1 win.
"Early on you want to see concentration and focus on the shape and you want to see that you are creating opportunities," said 12th year Boulder coach Hardy Kalisher, who coached his 200th game on Thursday night. "I think we created plenty of opportunities and that's what you want to see in real games."
The possession, the creativity and the willingness to win every ball —a staple of what has made Boulder so brilliant in the past few seasons — was on display from the get-go.
The Panthers were relentless in the offensive third in the opening 30 minutes and were rewarded in the 16th.
Junior striker Omar Castruita flicked a left-footed volley past Heritage keeper Tiernan Day that seemed to settle the purple and gold.
"We are mentally prepared for everything. Practice for us is just as physical and when you get to practice physical, you get used to the contact," Castruita said. "Then we bring it to the field."
Just six minutes later, Boulder would add to its lead. Heritage defender Jack Tater dragged down a Panthers forward in the box and there was no hesitation from the official to award the penalty. Castruita, who scored one of the PK's in the epic 14-round shootout in the Class 5A title game last fall against Broomfield, stepped right up to the spot and beat Day.
"I just love taking PK's and I got two tonight and I go to put them away," said Castruita, who capped his hat trick with another PK in the 79th minute after an Eagles' hand ball in the box.
Boulder was dynamic in the midfield and didn't allow Heritage much of anything in their third. The Eagles lone quality scoring opportunity came in the 60th minute and they capitalized. Freshman Brendan Ryan was left unmarked and was able to beat senior keeper Cameron Casey.
"We know teams are going to defend and that their game plan is to defend and look for a counter and we just have to remember when you are up 2-0, you keep your hands down," said Kalisher, whose team will get a much anticipated title game rematch on Saturday evening at No. 2 Broomfield.
"We will continue to get better, but that was a good first game of the season for us."
BOULDER 3, HERITAGE 1
At Recht FieldHeritage (0-1) 0 1 — 1
Boulder (1-0) 2 1 — 3
Goals (assists) — Boulder: Omar Castruita (unassisted), 16th minute; Castruita (PK), 23rd; Heritage: Brendan Ryan (unassisted), 60th; Boulder: Castruita (PK), 79th.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Heritage: Tiernan Day (80-3-8); Boulder: Cameron Casey (80-1-0).