It’s not easy being the state champs. Just ask the girls' soccer team at Air Academy High School.
Brooke Braden, the Kadets high-scoring star, shrugged as she considered the burden of being the best. The best last season, that is.
“There’s a huge target on our backs,” she said. “The title hangs over us a lot. We reflect on it a lot.”
The Kadets' hard times continued Friday night. With 25 seconds left against Doherty, Air Academy (7-3-2) led after a late goal by Braden, her eighth of the season. Air Academy desperately needed a victory to aid its crusade to slip into the 4A state playoffs with an at-large bid should the team fail to earn the final guaranteed spot.
Then Doherty’s Sam Dominguez dribbled through a crowd of Air Academy defenders and directed a shot from a severe angle into the net with 22.7 seconds left.
Poof. Air Academy’s big win was gone. The teams settled for a 1-1 overtime draw.
Air Academy coach Nancy Sibley shook her fist as the game ended. She had badly wanted this one.
Eleven months ago, Sibley rejoiced after the Kadets' dramatic 3-2 win over Green Mountain in the state finals. Sarah Schweiss, one of the best players in recent state history, had scored a late goal from 35 yards out to clinch the win.
Unfortunately for Sibley, Schweiss has graduated.
“I haven’t slept in awhile,” Sibley said immediately after the Doherty tie. She doesn’t mean those words figuratively. She managed two hours sleep Thursday night after a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Cheyenne Mountain. She was hoping, perhaps in vain, for a comfortable night of rest on Friday.
Sibley said she never talks about the state title with her players. She emphasizes, over and over, this is a new team with new hopes.
But she admits she’s disappointed by this team’s performance. The Kadets trail Cheyenne Mountain, Palmer Ridge and Sand Creek, among others, in league standings. The top three teams are guaranteed playoff berths. The champs might not even compete in the state playoffs.
Of course, Dominguez’s superlative goal was not bad news for everyone at the soccer field on the edge of Security Service Field. When Dominguez scored, the Doherty rooting section erupted with joy and her teammates surrounded her for a brief hug-fest.
On the sideline, Doherty coach Eryn Gallagher was happy but not surprised. Her team, now 8-1-3, is a legit 5A title contender. This was the fourth time this season her team has rallied in the final minutes to either win or tie a game.
Air Academy nearly answered in overtime. Freshman Katie Rainsberger ripped a shot from 15 yards that looked ready to cure all of the Kadets' woes.
The shot, along with the probable victory, clanged off the crossbar.
It’s not easy being the state champs.