The all-for-one approach that drives success in secret societies, 9-to-5 office branches and war is also believed to work in athletics.
Sometimes it begins with a single voice.
Then it needs another.
“I remember clear as day, we were in the locker room,” Boulder boys soccer coach Hardy Kalisher said as he looked back on the 2012 season, the year the Panthers broke through for their first state title. “We were coming out of a losing streak, that challenging beginning part of the season, and we’re in the locker room talking about how everybody felt. We were kind of just going around in a circle, doing a check-in.
“And somebody said I like being on this team because it feels like a family. Then, Kevin (Van Lieshout) stood up and said ‘It is a family. We’re ‘La Familia.’”
Boulder’s program in 2012 hadn’t become the powerhouse it is renowned as today but emerged as a state player after Kalisher turned it into a yearly winner after taking over in 2006.
Over the first month of that fall, however, the progression was in question by some.
The Panthers had gotten off to just a 2-5 start — in part because Kalisher wanted to load up the non-conference schedule with historically elite programs to galvanize growth in his own.
Some outside the team, Kalisher remembers, saw it as a misstep following a first-round exit in the state playoffs the year before. The early hole had all but ensured an uphill climb to put them in a position for another postseason try.
“From the inside we were confident but from the outside there were some concerns,” Kalisher said. “But the team didn’t have any doubt. We had excellent leadership.”
With the team needing to string wins together, Van Lieshout exclaimed “La Familia”, a term that would go on to be the symbol of Boulder’s unshaken solidarity.
From memory, Kalisher and Van Lieshout said Javier Castruita went on to second the new motto. The team then huddled and chanted “1-2-3 La Familia” before heading into their league schedule in the 5A Front Range.
“Boulder, we’re such a diverse group,” said Van Lieshout, who is now 24 and a software engineer in Minnesota. “We always have players from all different kinds of backgrounds, Hispanic, local natives from Boulder. We always ended up having exchange students as well. At the time when we were juniors our starting right back was from Ecuador, (Pancho Valdivieso). And it was just this thought of, ‘How do we foster this culture that shows we’re a family?’”
Whether or not it was the true rallying cry Boulder needed in 2012 is debatable, but an identity had been set.
The Panthers won 12 of their final 13 games in 2012 to clinch their first title as a program. Lake Brant scored nine goals following the 2-5 start, including the game-winner in the final seconds over Mountain Range to clinch the 5A FRL title, and had two more in Boulder’s 3-1 win over Smoky Hill in the 5A finals.
“La Familia” was penned on T-shirts following the season by Boulder’s former athletic director Melissa Warfield. And since, Kalisher and his current and former players have frequently used the term, win or loss.
“It kind of snowballed into the motto of the program,” Kalisher said. “Many years later, young players are excited to be a part of the culture of ‘La Familia.’”
Boulder came close to adding championship No. 2 in the three years following the 2012 campaign, including a title game loss to Broomfield in 2014. Then in 2016, the Panthers emerged as arguably the greatest boys soccer team in state history, going 20-0 — perhaps comparable to Horizon’s 2000 team that finished perfect in 5A.
“I think just the brotherhood the Boulder boys really show is what makes it really special,” said Omar Castruita, a member of the 2016 team who went on to become the school’s all-time leader in goals (40) and assists (53). “To this day I have never been on a team that felt as special as the Boulder High School team. With Hardy, and there’s just something different there that makes it special.”
The 2016 Panthers outscored teams 5.8-1 in a mostly one-sided season, then concluded with a heavyweight match for the ages in the 5A title game. They beat Broomfield after 14 rounds of penalty kicks.
“It was a group of young boys who were all very disciplined,” added Omar, who currently plays at Laramie County Community College. “We all focused on the same goal, which made us very successful. … The bonding with each other that year, everything was just flowing and going right. Even when things got hard, we knew we had each other’s back.”
Today, Boulder has maintained its place among the state and national elite. Last year, Kalisher said his program was highlighted in “Win the Day: The Ultimate Coach’s Guide to Build and Sustain a Championship Culture”, a book by famed sports psychologist Dr. Jerry Lynch.
Focused on winning organizations and sports figures, including 11-time world champion basketball coach Phil Jackson and the 2010s Golden State Warriors, Lynch often dives into the mentality behind success. Boulder has one of its own.
“We are a family,” Van Lieshout simply put. “We’re a family of a big cultured pot.”
Details of the Dynasty
Coach: Hardy Kalisher
Dynasty years: Between 2012 and 2016, Boulder reached the Class 5A title game three times and won two titles. In 2013, its run ended in the state semifinals. In 2014, it fell in the title game to Broomfield. And in 2015, it lost in the quarterfinals. Over the past 11 seasons recorded on MaxPreps, Boulder has maintained its powerhouse standing in the state’s largest classification with an average of 14.6 wins per season. Only twice in 11 years have the Panthers bowed out prior to the state quarterfinals round.
Major players (between 2012-2016): Some include, Lake Brant, Brian Castruita, Javier Castruita, Omar Castruita, Mitchell Davis, Mason Douillard, Djibril Doumbia, Quinn Frankovsky, Mitchell Graesser, Skye Guegan, Henry Huettel, Sam Kirk, Quinn Liebmann, Kevin Van Lieshout, Cory Waltrip, Blaise Werner, Matteo Wilczak.
Most dominant moment: In 2016, Boulder went a perfect 20-0 in Class 5A and beat Broomfield after 14 rounds of penalty kicks. Keeper Djibril Doumbia denied the Eagles’ 14th try and Mitchell Graesser came through with the winning kick to clinch the victory. Boulder’s Simon Julien and Broomfield’s Armando Ocampo traded goals in regulation. The Panthers outscored their opponents 75-13 on the season and went 12-0 in the vaunted 5A Front Range League.