DENVER — The familiar faces on the other side heightened the stakes Saturday, and so did the fact The Academy has had Jefferson Academy’s number over the years in girls soccer.
But the two schools separated by just a couple of miles and only one city limit sign had never played against each other with this much on the line.
A trip to the Class 3A championship game was up for grabs at All City Stadium, and this go-round was all Jaguars. Jefferson Academy scored all three of its goals in the first half and dominated the midfield for a 3-0 victory.
Tuesday’s appearance in the championship game against Colorado Academy (Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, 7:30 p.m.) will be the first for the girls soccer program.
“Since the beginning of this season, we knew this was going to be the team, the year that we going to try and win it all,” said senior captain Marissa Chapman. “We have six seniors this year, and we are just not content with having that bad taste in our mouth (from a quarterfinal loss last year). I think we walked in today like, we’re this close, we can’t stop now.”
“This is the result of that burn (from last year) lingering,” head coach Denise Sutton said. “We worked hard today. We’ve really tried to impress on the girls that pressure causes errors, and if we could put pressure on the ball when the other team has it, it makes it difficult for anyone.”
Anticipating a tight game having not beaten the Wildcats since at least 2009 (0-5), the most agonizing part of the day for the Jaguars turned out to be having to wait nearly two hours after the scheduled start to get going because of lightning. However, once the whistle blew, Jefferson Academy flashed its brilliance on offense with consistency.
They had the first four scoring chances, using diagonal passing to get some prime looks, but netted their first goal off a set piece in the 26th minute. That’s when Jayla Elstad footed Emily McParland’s low-headed ball off a corner kick, a perfectly executed play that signaled how the rest of the day might play out.
Thanks to the midfield work, JA (16-2) gained a 2-0 lead a short time later. A pinball-like few seconds in the 31st minute sprung Alycia Wright with 45 yards of open space in front of her and just one defender, and Wright was not to be denied after working into the 18-yard box and firing away.
Five minutes later, Wright worked in a shot on goal that a defender misplayed right past The Academy keeper Emily Bunch, giving the Wildcats (17-1) a huge deficit to work out of in 40 minutes.
The Jaguars collective unit never let The Academy gain hope. Kassidy Hastings faced just two shots, both coming from well beyond the 18. To the Academy’s credit, they were without star player Alexis Loera, who was in California training with the U.S. Women’s Under-17 National team this week.
But her presence might not have made up the entire difference. The teams had played each other just a couple weeks ago, and though The Academy took a 2-1 win, Elstad said they were confident they’d get back at them if they had the chance.
“I think it wasn’t confidence that we were better than them, but it was just we knew we were better than how we played,” Elstad said of the last meeting. “We didn’t play our game the first time, and we wanted to come out here and show them we could get back on our toes.”
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Jefferson Academy 3, The Academy 0
At All City Stadium
Jefferson Academy 3 0 — 3
Goals (assists) — Jefferson Academy: Jayla Elstad (Emily McParland assist), 26th minute; Jefferson Academy: Alycia Wright (unassisted), 31st minute; Jefferson Academy: The Academy own goal, 35th minute.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Jefferson Academy: Kassidy Hastings (80-0-2); The Academy: Emily Bunch (80-3-10).