Air Academy was tested early and often Wednesday night in the first round of the Class 4A state soccer playoffs. The Kadets passed this test, but know harder exams await.
After a slow start, the No. 8 Kadets (8-6-1) scored three goals to defeat No. 25 Mesa Ridge 3-1 to advance to the second round.
"We had some good moments, we just need to be more consistent," Air Academy coach Nancy Sibley said. "I thought all three of our goals were legit, very clean and beautiful goals. Mesa Ridge is well-coached and they came out with high pressure. We were good enough to win today, but we have to be better."
Playing a Mesa Ridge (10-6) team it stomped 10-0 a year ago, Air Academy wasn't hitting on all cylinders most of the game. The Kadets had plenty of scoring chances but couldn't cash in until there were 26 seconds left in the first half.
In that half both teams got some good scoring chances. Mesa Ridge hit the crossbar twice before Air Academy's Hailey Peterman scored from about 50 feet to give the Kadets a 1-0 lead and momentum going into the break.
"We were struggling to connect passes, and communication was a big issue, but when you find the right moment you have to take advantage," Peterman said. "You never underestimate a team, and we didn't underestimate them. They shut us down early, and it took a while to find our rhythm."
Air Academy hit its stride during a crucial five-minute stretch in the second half.
Ellie Boatz took a nice pass from Peterman in the 58th minute and put a header into the net to give Air Academy a 2-0 lead and some breathing room.
Just moments after Boatz made it a two-goal lead, Brooke Braden scored a spectacular goal from a tough angle in the corner off a perfect crossing pass from Katie Rainsberger.
"This obviously wasn't an easy win for us, but a game like this will help us as we play tougher competition in this tournament," said Boatz, one of five seniors on the team. "Mesa Ridge was a better team than the 25 seed. They came out and played hard, but we need to get better about making good passes."
Mesa Ridge wasn't a typical 25 seed. The Grizzlies were the 4A Colorado Springs Metro League champs.
Kaylee Gatzke got the Grizzlies on the board with six minutes left in regulation when she beat Air Academy goalkeeper Sierra Daniger from close range. It was just too little, too late.
"Last year they killed us, and our goal was to not let that happen again, so we came out and played hard," Gatzke said. "We were the first girls' soccer team in our school's history to win the conference, so this season was great and it was an honor playing with all these amazing girls."