DENVER • Air Academy was in unfamiliar territory, trailing 4-1, an undefeated team unaccustomed to playing from behind.
Yet once the Kadets forgot about the pressure of the state lacrosse championships against three-time defending champion Cherry Creek, they were able to return to their accustomed place on a lacrosse field — well ahead.
Air Academy’s response to adversity paved the way for a series of giddy, glorious and foreign events — mobbing goaltender Ashley Keller, shaking the hands of the vanquished Bruins, celebrating with hundreds of fans, and finally, dousing coach Sean Harmon with a Gatorade shower.
Hustle, crisp cutting, unselfish passing, and low shooting produced a lead as large as seven goals before Air Academy prevailed 17-14 Wednesday night at the University of Denver’s Barton Stadium.
It was the first girls’ state lacrosse championship for a school other than eight-time champion Cherry Creek, Kent Denver or Colorado Academy.
“This is so meaningful,’’ said senior attack Alex Befus, who scored a game-high six goals, made two assists, and took all the draws.
“We don’t get credit for anything we do. People say, ‘Oh they are a public school in the Springs; no big deal.’ But you know what? We worked our hardest. This is our season. We deserve it. It is all about the heart.”
Harmon called timeout after the Bruins (19-4) answered Befus’ opening score with a four-goal run. Reminding his players of the power of possession, the Kadets did a better job of cradling the ball off Befus’ draws against Creek star McKenzie Brown, a Notre Dame-bound 6-footer who was not always able to use her height to secure the ball, due to Befus’ cat-quick pulls.
Air Academy (19-0) took a 6-4 lead. after the DU-bound Befus, who will play on the same field that now holds championship memories scored a pair and fellow attack Hayley Bernstein netted three, including a bouncer,
The Bruins tied it 6-6, 7-7 and 8-8 before Bernstein’s shot after a foul and Befus’ running shot pushed the Kadet lead to 10-8 at halftime.
In the first eight minutes of the second half, the Bruins rarely had possession as AA dominated, using a 7-2 run for a 17-10 lead, including three goals by the most diminutive player on the field, left-handed midfielder Allie McLaughlin.
“That happens a lot, Alex and Hayley are really aggressive and great players and so people don’t expect the others to do much and they start taking them out of the game and then that opens it up for other players,’’ McLaughlin said. “So we really are well-rounded. We can pull it off. We are a great team.’’
It was the second state title this school year for McLaughlin, the 5A cross country champ, who used footwork and stick dexterity to maintain possession despite the towering Bruins around her.