COMMERCE CITY — Dick's Sporting Goods Park has been a venue the Dawson School girls soccer team has always been able to enter confidently, only to leave with feelings of "what if?"
The only question for the Mustangs after Tuesday night is, "can we repeat?"
After three straight years of coming up short in the Class 2A title game, a mostly young group of Mustangs put aside all their past history — including a title-game defeat at the hands of Denver Christian just one year ago — and put together a sound game plan that secured a 3-2 win over the Thunder and the school's first title in the sport.
A second chance to play Denver Christian this season and a fourth straight title-game appearance overall yielded the most positive results possible, as sophomore Kaitlyn Day scored two goals and classmate Alex Dunbar added what turned out to be the game-deciding marker in the second half.
"I don't think anyone on our team had a doubt in their mind that we could do it this year," said Dunbar, who scored on a rebound in the 58th minute that was needed against the dangerous Denver Christian squad. "We all came out strong and with intensity and our goal was to win this year ... that there was no 'next year' or 'we can just do it another time'. This was the year we were going to win."
"We knew we couldn't underestimate (Denver Christian) and that beating them once in the season didn't mean much," Day said, seconds after sharing a huge hug with her twin sister Madison, who also played a key role in the season under head coach Dave Criswell. "We came out as hard as we could and just played our game and didn't worry about them. After three years, this fourth time means a lot and we knew we could do it."
The Mustangs were hardly challenged in the first two playoff games after earning the tournament's No. 1 seed, but Tuesday's match saw Dawson School (16-2) give up a goal early despite have a significant portion of possession in the first 10 minutes.
A defensive mistake allowed DC's Jessie Mueller to possess a through ball into the 18-yard box, and Dawson keeper Kate Gallop could not scramble back in time to stop the junior's shot from trickling in.
It was a momentary setback in the sloppy start for both teams. Day was able to tie the game at 1-1 with a maneuver around Denver Christian keeper Erin Youngsma — again a situation where the Thunder freshman came too far out to cut off a through ball, and it was 1-1 after just 12 minutes.
The stalemate progressed through halftime, but just two minutes after the break the Mustangs found a good chance on a long breakaway from Cameron Epstein that was snuffed out just at the tail end of the play. Yet that put Dawson in the right frame of mind, and the Mustangs would end up out-shooting DCS 9-4 (7-2 on frame) in the second half.
Day, who finished the season with 15 goals, converted a free kick just outside the 18-yard box in the 55th minute and Dunbar was able to clean up Maddy Timms's hard shot in the 58th to make it 3-1.
"I was all in on the shot there, just knew I was going to take it and threw away all my worries about any mistakes I made," Dunbar said of her goal, which came from about 20 yards out and was her sixth of the year. "It ended up working."
Denver Christian pushed forward in desperation over the final 15 minutes and were able to cut it back to 3-2 with a Hally Herder goal in the 76th minute, but the Thunder (12-6) failed to get another shot on goal despite the pressure.
It was a duke-it-out finale for Dawson, which had to figure out how to win in the playoffs with injured freshman Degen Miller and her team-leading 25 goals. With just four seniors, though, the Mustangs seem in position to keep rolling into Dick's and a chance for more.
Class 2A state championship
Dawson School 3, Denver Christian 2
At Dick's Sporting Goods ParkDenver Christian (12-6) 1 1 — 2
Dawson School (16-2) 1 2 — 3
Goals (assists) — Denver Christian: Jessie Mueller (unassisted), 9th minute; Dawson School: Kaitlyn Day (Estasia McGlothlin assist), 12th; Dawson School: Day (unassisted), 55th; Dawson School: Alex Dunbar (Maddy Timms), 58th; Denver Christian: Hally Herder (unassisted), 76th.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Denver Christian: Erin Youngsma (80-3-10); Dawson School: Kate Gallop (80-2-2).