Legacy's historic start to open the season will now be met with a historically grueling part of its schedule.
Ah yes, it's that time of year again — time to dive the state's deepest and most feared league: The 5A Front Range.
"It's the dominant league in the state," Legacy coach Tony Romano said. "Period."
The Front Range, home to the last four state champions and 10 of the last 16 state semifinalists looks to be in peak form once again in 2018. As of Tuesday night, the league is a whopping 36-6-4 against nonconference opponents.
Legacy, for its part, has been one of the league's shining examples of dominance starting a program-best 6-0. And yet the Lightning are behind three of their league mates in this week's CHSAANow 5A poll as No. 1 Boulder, No. 3 Fairview and No. 4 Broomfield are all ahead.
Sitting seventh, Legacy will have to play all three of those teams in the coming weeks. Romano, in his 10th year at the helm, knows nothing can be taken lightly from here on out.
"Let's pretend that we're going to play a team in the bottom half of our league and so the boys might look at it and say 'Yeah, they're in eighth place in our league, I'm not worried,'" Romano said. "And I say, 'You better be worried because the team that finishes dead last in the Front Range League will still be a good team."
Case in point: Greeley West. The Spartans, who finished eighth in the league a year ago, were ranked atop the RPI as of Monday. As of Tuesday, they sit second to Boulder.
"I think the Front Range League is known even outside of Colorado as a highly competitive high school soccer league, where our teams can compete at a national level," Panthers coach Hardy Kalisher said. "It prepares you for the playoffs. A team can finish fourth, fifth place in our league and make it to the finals."
In fact, Broomfield has never finished atop the league standings since joining the league in 2014 and yet the Eagles have won three state titles in that span. In their lone miss in 2016, they finished runner-up to Boulder after the title game went to 14 rounds of shootout. Longtime preps writer Jon Yunt characterized it as "one of the more amazing finishes in state championship history."
Last year, the Eagles finished third in league and rolled as the seventh seed in the state playoffs en route to beating co-league champion Fort Collins in the semifinals and top-seed Denver East in the finals. Fairview, which finished fifth in league, also made it to the quarterfinals that year.
The grueling road through the Front Range League is key in preparation to these kinds of postseason runs. Staying mentally and physically strong throughout the schedule can be the tricky part.
"It's hard," Broomfield coach Jim Davidson said. "You got to figure out a way to maintain energy and recovery becomes really important. And just that mental energy is really important as well."
"Maintaining that energy is tough."
On Monday, Broomfield and Boulder met in an early league matchup that felt more like a classic postseason affair. The Panthers ended up winning 1-0 in game that was meticulously well played on both sides. It was scoreless late when urgency set in to its fullest.
Broomfield captain Tanner Smith flew like Superman into the box and just missed a header attempt in the 67th minute. Boulder forward Milo Lewon came back after a violent collision in the first half to score the game winner a few minutes later.
The two may very well cross paths come late October or November.
"There's a good chance we'll be playing (the league) teams again in the playoffs because they're all so good," Smith said.
Added reigning BoCoPreps.com Player of the Year Omar Castruita: "I love the challenge." The star forward was held without a point for the first time this season Monday. It's rigid tests like Broomfield and other FRL teams that has helped him grow into a better player.
"If soccer was just easy all the time I probably wouldn't play," he said.
Not to worry, Omar.
Legacy, meanwhile, will aim for its first seven-game winning streak in program history when it faces Mountain Range on Thursday, said Romano. The potential program highlight comes on a night where the Lightning will honor former player Chris Reagan, who died in 2008. Romano said the team will wear orange jerseys (Chris' favorite color) as well as the No. 9 (Chris' high school number) on their chest.
As far as on the field, the coach said his team's current confidence level is high. But with it comes a certain realization.
"We need to be better each week to be successful against those teams," Romano said. "Those teams are really, really good."
Brent W. New: email@example.com and @brentwnew
Front Range League Standings
As of Tuesday night: Fairview (6-0, 2-0), Legacy (6-0, 2-0), Boulder (6-0, 2-0), Greeley West (4-0-2, 1-0-1), Mountain Range (4-1-1, 1-0-1), Broomfield (4-2, 1-1), Fort Collins (3-1-1, 1-1), Poudre (5-1, 1-1), Rocky Mountain (3-2-1, 0-2), Monarch (3-3, 0-2), Fossil Ridge (1-4-1, 0-2), Horizon (2-3, 0-2).