Daily Camera file photo
COLORADO SPRINGS — It was a shot she made regularly in practice. Outside the box, maybe 30 yards out, nothing but net.
This was different, though.
With regulation dwindling in a tied Class 4A girls soccer final Saturday at Weidner Field, Gianna Sandoval connected on a long-distance winner with 12 seconds remaining to lift Holy Family past Evergreen, 2-1, to claim its first championship in program history.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s done,” a still-stunned Sandoval said moments afterward. “But it is. It’s shocking. Exciting.”
A late chance emerged for the Tigers after a failed clear attempt set Sandoval up for one last look.
The junior, who’d scored earlier, too, corralled a weak hit by Evergreen outside the box and fired a right-footed chance that sliced through the air and swished behind the outstretched hand of keeper Aubrey Huerta.
Sandoval froze for a moment. She hadn’t thought she was going to hit it that well. Thinking it was going to smack off her shin guard, it instead took off from the sweet spot of her foot.
“Gianna makes those shots all the time,” Holy Family coach Michelle Griego said. “You have to have faith that they’re going to do it. These girls are clutch. They come in and do their thing.”
The burden of the moment quickly dissipated for Sandoval and a euphoric weightlessness took reign as she clasped her hand over her mouth and fell to her knees.
Around her, teammates rushed around in celebration as many Evergreen players fell to the ground in shock.
The win completed Holy Family’s Cinderella run as the 12th seed (11-2) and stopped No. 2 Evergreen (13-1) from tying a bow around a perfect season.
Before this, the Tigers ran through the 16-team bracket infused with a hunger to prove its underdog seed wrong.
They beat favorites Thompson Valley, Windsor and No. 1 Northridge en route to their first-ever title game.
“Our league, (5A/4A Northern Colorado Athletic Conference), is pretty tough … we have a lot of tough teams in our division,” Griego said. “For these girls, they knew they were good. With COVID, you don’t get to see them play last year. This year is a modified season, so it definitely changes the complexion of the ranking. I think they’re better than the 12th seed for sure. We took it as a sign of disrespect, I’m not going to lie, and they did too. They wanted to prove to everybody that we’re not a 12 seed.”
No. 1 is all that precedes their name now.
Earlier, Evergreen took the lead on Myla Stewart’s goal in the 7th minute. On a free kick a few yards outside the box, her low-searing shot cleared through traffic and raced by a diving Olivia Dietrich for her 10th goal of the season.
Holy Family tied it late in the half on a setup from Lauren Clingman to Sandoval. Clingman, with a free kick along the far end line, crossed the ball into the box and Sandoval one-timed a shot past Huerta to make it 1-1 with 8:55 remaining in the half.
The goal came after Addison Kusek appeared to have already tied the game in the 22nd minute for the Tigers but it was waved off due to infraction.
Down the stretch, the teams traded chances.
Dietrich, who’d made a phenomenal one-handed save above her head to keep Evergreen from going up by two in the first half, added a few more. The other way, Jaelen Giron missed just wide moments before Sandoval’s title-winner.
“We were the first ones” to do it at Holy Family, Sandoval said. “Now it makes it possible every year. We know we can do it, so we can do it again.”
Holy Family’s epic run finished off the second straight double-digit seed to win the finals in 4A. Cheyenne Mountain won the title as a 21-seed in a 32-team field in 2019.
The Cougars were looking for their first state title since 1997.