COMMERCE CITY | The Grandview girls soccer team got “GAS” Wednesday night in a big way.
The Wolves kept the meaning of their mysterious season-long motto a well-guarded secret all the way up until the day before they played Broomfield in the Class 5A state championship game at Dick’s Sports Goods Park.
The team threw people off by taking postgame pictures with signs saying “Glide And Soar,” “Grow And Strive” and “Going After State,” but internally they focused on its real meaning — “Get A Star,” a reference to winning a state title. They lived up to the mantra with a 2-0 victory on a cold, drizzly evening in the home stadium of the Colorado Rapids.
“We came up with ‘GAS’ during our retreat in the first week of the season and we kept it secret all year,” said goalkeeper Maddie Lesjak, the team’s inspirational leader and one of just five seniors on coach Tari Wood’s very young roster.
“We came up with different things because the school wanted to know what it was,” she added. “‘Get A Star.’ We got one, and it’s truly incredible.”
Grandview (18-1-1) got its star — the second championship in program history and first since 2008 — plus the big trophy that came with it by using its tried and true formula for winning in 2015: suffocating defense making a timely goal stand up.
Sophomore defender Jessica Hixson — who made a huge impact after transferring from Rangeview — combined with sophomore Nicole Lyubenko on a set piece goal in the 27th minute, which stood up as Hixson’s second game-winner of the playoffs. Junior Mandi Duggan sealed the victory with a goal with 18 seconds left.
Lyubenko’s corner kick found Hixson in the goal box — like it did for the only goal in Grandview’s second round win over Centennial League rival Smoky Hill — and after she’d settled it, Hixson blasted a shot under the crossbar.
“I don’t know what happened, the ball just skipped, hit me, and I put it in. I didn’t even see it coming,” Hixson said. “This is awesome, I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s such an amazing feeling.”
With Lesjak playing strong in the nets — and getting some good fortune from a crossbar that helped keep Broomfield’s Makena Bambei from tying the game early in the second half — Grandview’s young but talented defense combined to post its fifth shutout in as many postseason games.
The Wolves held opponents scoreless in 400 playoff minutes and allowed just five goals all year.
“I think (Broomfield) was surprised with the speed of my backs because they kept thinking they could get behind them,” Wood said of her group of sophomores Hixson and Taylor Parker and freshmen Lindsi Jennings and Allie Zerr.
“My back four played great and Maddie played the game of a lifetime in the goal,” Wood added. “We got lucky when they hit the bar, but I thought we had more opportunities.”
Lyubenko had a chance to expand the lead in the closing seconds of the first half, but Broomfield goalkeeper Shannon Mooney just deflected her shot to keep it out of the net and keep it a 1-0 game.
The Wolves withstood the Eagles desperate play in the final minutes and put the finishing touch on the win when Duggan raced in and struck a perfect shot into the top corner of the net with 18 seconds left to make it a two-goal game.
“Mrs. Wood made it clear in the locker room that we had to come out and score another one because Broomfield was going to press hard,” Duggan said.
“They had some great opportunities, and so did we, but finally that second goal put them away.”
On top of the championship, Grandview appears on the path to future success as the Wolves lose only Lesjak to graduation from the starting lineup.
Four freshmen, four sophomores and a handful of juniors played vital roles and now know what it takes to win in the playoffs.
“There are endless possibilities from here,” Lyubenko said. “We’re just going to get more players next year and I know they are strong. Hopefully we’ll keep battling and be back next year.”
Added Wood: “I knew we could be good, but we were so young I never dreamt this. Seven freshmen and sophomores in the starting lineup and you’re going to do this? It doesn’t happen.”
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
(2) GRANDVIEW 2, (4) BROOMFIELD 0
Score by halves:
Broomfield 0 0 — 0
Grandview 1 1 — 2
Grandview — Jessica Hixson (Nicole Lyubenko), 27th minute
Grandview — Mandi Duggan, 79th minute