This will be a story Rampart’s seniors will always be able to tell, even if the ending wasn’t what they wanted.

After rushing out of their high school graduation to play in a 5A quarterfinal soccer game, the fourth-seeded Rams saw their unbeaten season end with a 2-1 loss to No. 12 Arapahoe on a goal that pinballed in front of the net after a free kick before leaking through with 3½ minutes remaining.

“I’ll be able to say I skipped my own graduation to come play in the quarterfinals,” said senior Katie Wilcox, sneaking in a laugh on a night filled with goodbyes.

The senior soccer players sat off to the side during commencement at Air Force’s Clune Arena. The ceremony began at 5:15 p.m. with the national anthem, some remarks from the principal, and then the six seniors who departed early walked the stage and received their diplomas. Two others stayed for the duration of graduation.

Those who left where whisked out of the arena and onto a short, white bus driven by the school’s baseball coach. They arrived at District 20 Stadium about an hour before game time, giving them enough time to swap cap and gown for soccer uniform but not necessarily enough time to get their emotions in check.

Arapahoe (14-3-1) capitalized by dominating the first 16 minutes and taking the lead on a goal from Lauren Walter.

“I think emotions were running high, and they affect the girls differently,” coach Carisa Whitson said. “They affected some more than others. It felt like they were kind of off emotionally, but man did they battle. They never quit. I’m just so proud of them for the season that they had.”

Rampart — which played beyond the first round of the 5A playoffs for the first time this season — tied the game with 24 minutes left on an Ashleigh Decker breakaway goal. Both teams then exchanged quality looks for 20 minutes before Arapahoe snuck one through.

For the first time this season, the Rams (17-1) couldn’t find another goal.

“It was an amazing season,” Wilcox said. “I wouldn’t have wanted my senior season with any other team. It was amazing.”

The message from Whitson, who addressed the team in a tear-filled circle that included classmates still in full graduation attire, was to embrace the program-best season that concluded about two games earlier than they would have liked.

“I told them we have nothing to be down about,” Whitson said. “Yeah, we wish it would have bounced a different way for us, but that happens. Arapahoe played a good game.”

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