AURORA - The Lewis-Palmer boys’ soccer team took a solemn walk back to their bench after the final horn sounded in a 2-1 loss to Air Academy in the Class 4A semifinals.
Some stood with their hands on their knees as the Kadets celebrated around them.
The Rangers’ historic season was over.
It was the program’s first appearance in the state semifinal since 2008, aiming for the team’s first title-game appearance since they won it all in 2003. Lewis-Palmer entered the postseason with the best record since 2016 and 11 straight wins and a 5A/4A PPAC championship to earn the No. 8 seed in the 4A tournament.
And the mantra has been the same all season — be better than you were the day before.
“We’re really proud of all they have accomplished this year, but they’ve done that by just trying to be the best players and teammates and people that they can be,” said Lewis-Palmer coach Brian Barkey. “Each match we were just looking to play the best match we could play. Had we finished in the second half and moved onto the final we would still be looking for that best performance, and that’s what it’s been about all season. Their effort, and can they be the best men that they can be.”
Now with a robust junior class, Barkey expects that mantra and leadership to continue into next season, led by a number of junior standouts.
“The juniors we have are superb and often times carry the weight and make huge impacts in games for us,” Barkey said Wednesday, naming Ethan Mann, Cole Mooney, Charlie Holland, Tyler Prichard, Tanner Kilgore and Andrew Merrell as expected leaders in 2020. “We have a good group coming in so hopefully we can remain consistent and use this to drive us again.”
Prichard scored the Rangers’ lone goal in the semifinal loss off a 40-yard free kick early in the first half. He then dominated defensively helping to keep Air Academy off the board through the first 40 minutes.
“It’s a bummer we’re not going to play with those same guys again, but I think we will use it as fuel to get back here next year,” Prichard said. “It’s been a pretty amazing run after starting the season 1-3. We have been counting on each other and we knew we had a shot, and unfortunately it ended tonight, but I can’t put into words how proud I am of this team.”
“(Prichard) is a brilliant player — one of the best players in colorado. He is our linchpin, he’s such a great leader,” Barkey said.
After sustaining an injury in a preseason tournament where he broke his collarbone, Prichard was cleared to play the day of the team’s opener against Golden.
“I remember sitting with him in the hospital saying, we have to get you back and think about what’s next,” Barkey said. “He was ready and came out as a sub in the first game and started tonight in the final four being one of the most dominant center backs in the state, I think.”
Prichard said his injury was an eye-opener for how much he loved the game.
“That was a huge setback for me because I have been injured before, but it motivated me to do well the rest of the season and help us come together as a team,” Prichard said. “It made me love the game more, because without it, it was really hard to just sit and watch, so that definitely motivated me to come back and be ready to go.”
Nine juniors will return to the Rangers in 2020.