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Girls soccer: Set pieces propel Peak to Peak into 3A state championship game

DENVER – During the 2017 regular season, Peak to Peak’s girls soccer team was handed only two losses in 15 games.

On Saturday afternoon, the Pumas gained a measure of redemption by avenging one of those defeats. On Tuesday night, the squad will get the chance to do it again, this time on the sport’s biggest stage.

Buoyed by a pair of goals on set pieces in the first half Saturday, Peak to Peak left All City Stadium with a 2-1 victory over Metro League rival and top-seeded Jefferson Academy in the Class 3A state semifinals. That triumph sent the fifth-seeded Pumas into the 3A championship game for the first time since 2013, where they’ll face No. 6 The Academy at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City.

Peak to Peak was shut out 3-0 by the Wildcats back on April 24.

“I think we’ve tasted that sweet revenge, and now it’s just time to do it again,” said Pumas senior Rebecca Thompson, who scored the first goal Saturday. “The emotions are obviously going to be running high again, but it’s time to kind of swallow that, put our heads down and play.”

Jefferson Academy used a run of five unanswered goals to take down Peak to Peak 5-3 back on April 5. The Pumas were without defender Jordan Deger in that loss, but Thompson said the emotion of the game also got to the Pumas a bit in the first meeting.

“I think we just kind of had to regroup. It was one of those moments where we got too in our heads and we were too focused on who we were playing and not how we were playing,” Thompson said. “I think we were able to put that aside and do what we’ve been doing. We’ve been doing a lot of drills in practice, all about defense, and just really focusing on that.

“We know we build out of the back and that’s how we get those opportunities.”

It took a little more than 10 minutes for Peak to Peak (15-2-1) to get the ball rolling Saturday. The first goal was set up by Thompson, who fed teammate Alayna Mann with a perfect cross. Mann’s shot was deflected out of bounds by a diving Jaguars goalkeeper Brooklynn Kirkpatrick though, leading to a corner kick.

Mann took the corner, and the ball found its way to Thompson, who slipped the ball past Kirkpatrick in a scrum in front of the net.

Fourteen minutes later it was Emma Shepherd’s turn. The sophomore’s free kick went past a wall of Jaguars defenders and to the left of Kirkpatrick to make it 2-0.

“I’ve been here at Peak to Peak 10 years, and four years now as the varsity head coach. This might be our best team at set-piece finishes,” Pumas coach Joe Swanson said. “They’ve just been pretty dang terrific at them all season long. I like our chances when we get set up on them.”

Jefferson Academy (15-2-1) got on the scoreboard a little more than a minute into the second half. Pumas keeper Kinzie Short, who had just entered the game, was unable to cover up a loose ball and Samantha Spitz took advantage of the open net, cutting the lead to 2-1.

The Jaguars kept the pressure on in the second half, but couldn’t find any open looks as Peak to Peak did a good job clearing the ball away from the box.

“We just couldn’t finish. That happens, but I’m proud of the girls. They didn’t give up and that’s what you want to see in a team,” Jefferson Academy coach Denise Sutton said. “That’s what those younger players will see: The heart that our older players played with, and they’ll carry on. Hopefully that will become a legacy at our school, these kind of hard-fought battles when we get to these situations.”

Peak to Peak’s return to the title game comes against a Wildcats program that is playing for its first state championship. The Pumas were in the 3A title game from 2011-13.

Thompson said the team made strides last spring, but it all came together in 2017.

“I know that was going to be my only chance. Obviously it’s my last year,” Thompson said. “But this is definitely the best team I was going to have. That was my best chance to go, and I am so proud and so excited. It’s hard for me to form a thought right now.”

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Peak to Peak 2, Jefferson Academy 1

At All-City Stadium

Peak to Peak (15-2-1)20—2Jefferson Academy (15-2-1)01—1

Goals (assists) —Peak to Peak: Rebecca Thompson (Alayna Mann); Emma Shepherd (unassisted); Jefferson Academy: Samantha Spitz (unassisted).

Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Peak to Peak: Rachel Willette (40-0-1), Kinzie Short (40-1-1); Jefferson Academy: Brooklynn Kirkpatrick (80-2-3).

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