COMMERCE CITY • It had been about 20 minutes since the final whistle had blown, declaring Air Academy the Class 4A state champions. Senior Jordan Zand was still walking around the field with the championship trophy.
“It’s getting heavy, man,” Zand said, after doing a number of interviews.
Zand probably wouldn’t mind holding it for another 20 minutes. The No. 2 Kadets defeated No. 8 Broomfield 1-0 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Wednesday thanks to Zand’s goal and a number of brilliant saves by reserve goalie Christian Elsner, making just his second start of the season.
“I had a lot of pressure coming in ... seniors, we knew this was our last game,” Zand said. “We wouldn’t have another game.”
Zand scored on a header in the 23rd minute off a perfect cross from defender Mark Dotseth. Zand, unmarked, redirected the cross into the far side of the net.
“It was a great goal,” Kadets coach Espen Hosoien said. “It was fun for Jordan to get that goal. He is a senior and to get the game-winner it was nice for him.”
Elsner, starting for injured goalie Peter Vogrin, made the goal stand up. His diving parry of Clay Fiscus’ 15-yard blast was the save of the game. Elsner made three more great saves off free kicks, knocking each of Mark Mendez’s shots over the crossbar, including one in the 77th minute.
“My mentality was a lot different,” said Elsner, who had to come off the bench in Saturday’s semifinal. “I knew I was going to be the starting goalie for the championship. So I practiced how I knew I was going to play in the game.”
The three free kicks from distance were all on goal, forcing Elsner to make the decision when to jump and block. The second half also saw a number of scrambles inside the Kadets’ box, again forcing Elsner to decide how to play it. He never made the wrong decision.
“Good coaching I guess over the last few days,” Hosoien joked. “He had a couple of quality, one was an outstanding save. It was just destiny, I guess, that he was going to come in and perform the way he did.”
The junior will go down as the winning goalie for Air Academy’s first state title since 1990. But next year, he could be back on the bench if Vogrin is healthy.
“It was everything I could have dreamed of,” Elsner said. “You have no idea how many times I was sitting on the sidelines during the year thinking what would happen if Peter went down and I had to come in. I think that really helped me. I couldn’t have dreamed for a better experience with all the fans we had out here, in a beautiful stadium, on a grass field. I can’t even put it into words. It’s amazing.”