There’s a new team on the Colorado boys’ soccer map: Atlas Prep.
The Gryphons, in their fourth season of competition, earned the No. 3 seed in Class 3A behind a 14-0-1 regular season. Their lone draw came against Salida, the top seed in 3A.
Tuesday, Atlas Prep earned its first trip to the quarterfinals behind a 5-3 win over No. 14 Liberty Common.
“Making it to this next round is big, and we’re hoping for a couple more,” coach Teo Jackson said.
After the Eagles converted an early penalty kick, Atlas Prep senior captain Lamario Nisbeth uncorked an unsavable free kick from just outside the box.
“The goalkeeper was a little bit too much to the left,” Nisbeth said. “When I shot it, he didn’t move, so I knew.”
It was his 46th goal of the year, and he ended the day with 48.
“That’s just a brilliant goal,” said sophomore Luis Vega. “That’s well-expected by Lamario. He’s always the star player on the team, a captain. He’s just phenomenal.”
Vega played Jesse Parkinson in behind the Liberty Common defense late in the first half to give the Gryphons a lead at the break.
“I thought that was to me, but when I saw the goal, I was just stunned,” Nisbeth said. “It was impressive.”
The Eagles equalized early in the second half, but Nisbeth was just getting started. His presence in the box led a Liberty Common defender to head the ball into his own goal before Nisbeth dribbled past a couple of defenders and slotted home his second goal to make it 4-2. He finished a hat trick with his back to goal, flicking a header over the keeper.
“I’m just glad I’m able to do this for my school in my last year,” Nisbeth said. “I hope in the years to come, they do the same thing.”
That’s Jackson’s plan.
The teacher has been with the charter school on the southeast side of town for eight years, starting when it was just a middle school.
“We didn’t have a high school, so I started a middle-school program back then,” Jackson said. “It was weird we didn’t have one. To see all these guys at recess playing soccer and not have a soccer team is weird. I saw it early, man. I said we can play possession, we can attack, and we can score.”
The Gryphons did all of those things Tuesday. Atlas Prep will host No. 6 Delta, a 3-1 winner over No. 11 Lutheran on Thursday, in a quarterfinal Saturday.
“We want to go all the way,” Nisbeth said.
It’s a lofty goal from a team that started Colorado High School Activities Association play in Nisbeth’s freshman year, but Atlas Prep has a few things working in its favor. There’s a large Hispanic population at the school, which is well-represented on the team, and the Gryphons don’t have a football team or any other fall sport. They’ve also got a passionate crowd that lined the entirety of the sideline opposite the benches and chanted its support in English and Spanish throughout the 80 minutes before storming the field and creating a tunnel for players to run through after the final whistle.
“We’re a soccer school, man," Jackson said.
"We do soccer and try and do it pretty well. It’s cool to have the support. A lot of the families come out, it’s cool to see."