Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer
COMMERCE CITY — Down three goals in Tuesday’s finals, Jefferson Academy goalie Helen Stegner paced her sideline during half, embracing teammates and offering words of encouragement. Not in concession, she promised — rather a call to assure that no matter how things would finish on this night, nothing would end in vain.
“In my head we were still in it,” the junior said. “I was like, let’s rally, we’re still in this. And then, let’s also just end happy, no matter what happens.”
An hour later, the probable following a less-than ideal opening happened, and the No. 2 Jaguars’ latest deep postseason run ended in a 3-0 loss to top-seeded Kent Denver in the Class 3A championship game at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
The loss concluded Jefferson Academy’s seventh-straight trip to the Final Four and its third finals appearance in four seasons. In the meantime, it finished in a second straight championship for Kent Denver, which also ended JA’s run in the semifinals last season.
Both then and now, Sun Devils star player Izzy Newton was a major reason as to why.
“It’s been awesome to play against Izzy. She’s an amazing player and high school soccer is her jam,” junior forward Kate Runyon said. “It takes a really special player to come up big in every single game.”
The reigning 3A player of the year will likely repeat the feat in the coming days as her two-goal performance on a gray and chilly evening at the Colorado Rapids’ home field will go down as the exclamation point.
In the 8th minute, Newton’s right foot could have doubled as a tightly closed club face. Her corner kick from the near side drew just below the crossbar, expertly into the back of the net.
Three minutes after that, the senior committed to Villanova set up another. Leading a break, she brought Stegner out the box — and while the keeper did halt her, nobody could clear. A few chances were denied but the ball stayed in the box until Maria Romo-Nichols finally blasted home a deflection.
The lead then swelled to three on Newton’s second of the night. Taking a foul in the box in the 36th, she ripped her 39th goal of the season low and to the right on a penalty kick. It was the first three-goal deficit Jefferson Academy had faced since falling to Colorado Academy in the 2019 finals.
“We had a great opponent in Kent Denver. They went out and executed and took command early,” coach Hannah Wilson said. But “we fought like (heck) at the end of the game.”
The goals just didn’t fall.
As the clock expired, Jefferson Academy watched as Kent Denver rushed the field and smothered its star player in hugs.
Stegner and Runyon pulled Newton aside in the handshake line to offer their own personal kudos, then helped their own team celebrate its latest accomplishment with more smiles than tears.
“Our senior year we are just looking to make that push for the state championship,” Runyon said looking ahead. “We want it so bad —”
“So bad,” Stegner echoed.