DENVER - There's plenty to cheer about at Air Academy High School these days.
Just three hours after the Kadets' girls' soccer team won a state title in Commerce City, the school's girls' lacrosse team did the same with a 14-8 victory over highly favored Cherry Creek
In a driving rain that had the University of Denver's Peter Barton Stadium dotted with puddles of standing water, the Kadets executed their defensive game plan to perfection.
“They have more horses than we do; we know that,” Air Academy coach Sean Harmon said before the game. “We're going to have to play good defense. Pack it in and take advantage of our opportunities offensively.”
The Kadets did that and more in winning their second state title in the past four seasons. Erin Todd scored six goals, while Miranda Beal added three goals and three assists. Kaley Holmes and MacEllen McDonough each scored twice.
“We knew it was going to come down to possessions and defense,” Harmon said afterward. “That was the best defense all year.
“Everybody had their role and everybody did it today.”
The Kadets knew coming in that they had their hands full. Cherry Creek came into the title game having lost just one game this season and having already beaten Air Academy 17-11 on March 22.
"I think it played to our advantage having played them early in the season," Beal said. "I think it took the edge off some of the younger players because they knew what to expect. And we knew how much we had grown since that game."
Harmon broke it down to a specific goal.
“Winning the draws is going to be crucial,” Harmon said prior to the game.
Harmon proved proved prophetic in the early going as the first four goals were scored by the team that won the draw, two by each team. A big save by Air Academy's Kenzie Baer ended that streak and put the Kadets into position to take their first lead, 3-2, after a goal by McDonough with 17:33 remaining in the opening half.
From that point, the Kadets defense started frustrating the top-ranked Bruins. The score was tied at four with 8:37 remaining when Air Academy scored four straight, two by Todd. After Cherry Creek ended the streak at just under the two-minute mark, Beal bounced in two late goals, the second with just four seconds left, to send the Kadets into the intermission with a 10-5 lead.
Air Academy led 11-6 with 17:17 left in the game when Todd scored three straight over the next eight minutes. Cherry Creek scored a couple of late goals to account for the final margin.
"It was at the start of the second half that I think I started to realize we weren't going to back down and let them back in it," Todd said. "At about 10 minutes left I knew we had them."
Cherry Creek has won nine of the 15 state titles since the Colorado High School Athletics Association started the girls' lacrosse tournament in 1998 and played in all 15. More recently, the Bruins have won five of the past seven.
The only interruptions to that streak coming at the hands of Air Academy, which won in 2009 - and again on Wednesday.
"To go out like that in my senior season and beat them, it feels pretty amazing," Todd said. "It's such a rivalry and to play them in the championship game three times and beat them twice, it's amazing. It's as simple as that."
For Beal, who will play next year at Navy, was The Gazette’s Player of the Year in lacrosse following last season and was a starter on the basketball team that won state in March.
The wave of success has swept so quickly that she hasn’t even had time to work out a signature cliche to sum it all up.
“You know, it was surreal,” Beal said. “It didn’t hit me until about 2 minutes after the final whistle that we had beaten Cherry Creek, that we had played the best game we had played the whole season. And to win this after everything else this year is the cherry on top of the cake, or the icing, or the cherry on top of something, whatever is appropriate there.”
No need to clarify, the actions spoke louder than words.