How Middle Park soccer made 2022 league and playoff history  |

How Middle Park soccer made 2022 league and playoff history 

For the Panthers, winning involved hard work, defeat, belief and a 'Cinderella season'

Tracy Ross
For Ski-Hi News
Middle Park High School soccer players slide in the rain after a 5-0 over the Arvada Bulldogs on Sept. 21, 2022. The players pictured are, from left, senior Caden Hanson, sophomore Carter Chamberlin, senior Corbin Solomon, sophomore Gunnar Bjerken and senior Ethan Boekers.
Jordy McNamee/Courtesy photo

For most Grand County residents, the annual season of eggnog slurping and Christmas tree cutting has just begun. But for the 16 players on the 2022 Middle Park High School boys soccer team, a celebration has been ongoing for awhile now.

In August, the Panthers kicked off a winning season that eventually saw them winning the 3A/2A Frontier League championship for the first time in school history. Still, while they eventually enjoyed major highs, it was an “incredibly rough season,” said Corbin Solomon, a senior on the team and one of the its leading scorers.

“We lost our first game to KIPP 4-0, and that sort of set the tone for the rest of the season,” Solomon said. “Players and coaches felt defeated as we dropped should-be wins to Basalt and Englewood. Our toughest loss came when we lost our first home game to Lotus School for Excellence 3-2 in double overtime.” 

After the loss to Lotus on Oct. 3, they were 6-5 with four games left to go in the regular season. The state playoffs didn’t seem like a possibility, added Solomon. Looking back in hindsight though, he said the next several games was “when things kicked off.”

They managed to tag on a win over The Pinnacle on Oct. 8, and then faced the Generals of Arrupe Jesuit on Oct. 12.

“After beating Pinnacle, who was ranked higher than us at the time, 1-0, we faced Arrupe. The game was at Arrupe, and really a must-win for us. They were ranked much higher than us, and we were the clear underdogs.” 

Solomon and Brady Paugh netted a goal each, and the game headed to overtime. It ended when Paugh netted a set-piece goal to seal a 3-2 win — the team’s first win over Arrupe in a decade. Over the next few weeks, the team beat Fort Lupton in a 4-3 overtime win on Oct. 15 and Ellicot, 4-0, on Oct. 21 to secure their spot in the state tournament.

“By beating the two undefeated teams in league play in our last two games of the regular season, we won league for the first time in school history,” said Solomon.

Despite the league crown, the Panthers were the lowest-ranked team of the four teams in their league that made the state playoffs. They entered the playoffs ranked 22nd in the field of 32. 

“We knew we were better than that, especially when three other Frontier League teams were seeded higher than us, and we were league champs,” said captain Andy Troccoli. “We weren’t the most skilled team by any means, … but our chemistry was so good it allowed us to compete. Some of us seniors had been playing together for 13 years, after all. For the rest of the team, us seniors came together and brought leadership that they looked up to.” 

Heading into the playoffs, head coach Jordy McNamee also made the boys a promise. He said if they made it to the second round of the playoffs — a first for Middle Park soccer — he would get a tattoo. 

Whether or not the promised ink had anything to do with the team’s performance may be up for debate, but Middle Park ended all discussion about whether they belonged in the playoffs this year. They easily routed 11th-ranked DSST: College View with a 4-2 win, with especially big plays coming from leading defenders Caden Hanson and Ethan Boeckers.

The upset win brought them face to face with sixth-ranked KIPP Denver Collegiate — the league foe that they had started their season against, and the team that had dealt the Panthers their most lopsided loss of the season.

The playoff game started in Denver early in the afternoon on Tuesday, Nov. 1, but the mildly inconvenient time didn’t manage to deter a pack of Panthers from prowling the stands.

“We had more fans than we could ever imagine,” said Solomon. “The sidelines were packed with Middle Park supporters. I know myself as well as a lot of my teammates contribute our great success to the insane fan base that followed us through our historic state playoff run. With an early goal on a set piece from Andy Trocolli and myself, and a late free-kick goal from sophomore Leo Zenuga, we handed KIPP a shocking 2-1 upset. Our season peaked here, with the amazing fan base and powerful commitment of every single player contributing to this run we were on. We felt unstoppable.”

The Middle Park High School soccer team poses in front of the scoreboard after pulling of an upset a 2-1 playoff victory over KIPP Denver Collegiate on Nov. 1.
Jordy McNamee/Courtesy photo

The 22nd-ranked team entered the elite eight as the highest 3A seed left remaining — the next highest being eighth-seeded Frontier Academy. This marked the first time in Middle Park history they had ever made it past the round of 16.

On Nov. 5, Middle Park took to the field against Coal Ridge, the third seed in the tournament. After falling 1-0 in the first half, Middle Park came back into it, scoring 3 goals in the second half as the game went back and forth until it was tied 3-3 going into overtime. Ultimately Coal Ridge prevailed, scoring on a free kick off a header to the back of the net about halfway through the first and only overtime period.

This brought an end to the great season and to the high school careers of eight seniors, who have played together since elementary school, said Solomon. 

Speaking at the East Grand School District board meeting on Nov. 15, senior Caleb Stigers said he could not have asked for a better final season. At the meeting several people, including Middle Park Principal Cindy Rimmer, praised McNamee’s coaching style and the difference his strong relationships with the players made.

“We finally got a banner for boys soccer,” McNamee said during the board meeting.

Those eight seniors will be tough to replace, but McNamee said he’s not calling next year a rebuilding year. 

“We do only have one junior on the team, but that speaks to how deep we are and how solid our freshman and sophomore team is. So these guys, I’ve kind of just stressed, have very big shoes to fill. And I believe in them and know if they put in the work, we won’t take a step back and we’ll just continue to push forward and pick up where we left off,” he said. 

Stigers said McNamee used his seniors to set examples for underclassmen this season, which bodes well for the next season.

“There’s eight seniors,” Stigers said. “To have the (freshman) boys be able to watch us play, and then to be able to, next year, do the same thing … I think was very good.”

Since the loss, the team has continued to enjoy the afterglow of their improbable playoff run, and McNamee has had his girlfriend, a tattoo artist, start developing his ink. It’s built around the motto “#ABG” which stands for “Always Be Growing,” because that’s what he encouraged his players to do after every game, win or loss. “So ABG is super important,” he said, “and (the tattoo will) have all of the players’ initials and the year we’re in, 22, which was also our seed for the state tournament.” 

Sky-Hi News reporter Kyle McCabe also contributed to this report.

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