Middle Park soccer seniors sound off on league title, playoffs
For Sky-Hi News
For the oldest members of the Middle Park High School girls soccer squad, it’s been a spring they won’t ever forget.
Middle Park athletes found themselves smack-dab in the middle of the 3A playoff field as the 15th seed among 32 teams. The placement in the top 16 garnered them a first-round home game, with the Panthers hosting No. 18 SkyView Academy on May 12 on their own field.
The Panthers finished the regular schedule at 11-1-2 overall, as well as a perfect 9-0 in the 2A/3A Frontier League.
After a 2-1 victory on May 2 against The Academy that earned them the conference championship, Middle Park rounded out the week with fewer matches than they expected. Weather forced a no-contest ruling against Sheridan — a winless team this season — while their May 7 home game was also canceled as league opponent Jefferson couldn’t maintain a full roster and forfeited.
Though The Academy — seeded 17th in the playoffs — bested them in total goals scored this season, the Panthers maintained an enviable number of goals against them — 15 total, only two of which were scored during league play.
With four Middle Park players racking up minutes in the box, Aly Barker, Sarah Briggs, Ellie Holinka, and Alex Jardine shared a combined 79 saves in the regular season. Consistently showing how little they like to share the ball with opponents, seniors Lily Smith, Keelan Thomas, Ashtyn Laraby, and Jenna King were highest on the roster in terms of steals, led by Smith with 20, Thomas (18), Laraby (17) and King (13).
On offense, junior Emry Burns led in goals with 15, and tied as the Panthers’ assist leader with Laraby, both with nine. Smith scored 13 of her own and assisted on eight, while Laraby had eight goals, and junior Addison DePlata balanced out with seven goals and five assists.
The SkyView Academy Hawks of Highlands Ranch boasted a much more meager record compared to Middle Park, but their 8-6-1 tally and seventh-place finish in conference standings were boosted by their RPI, thanks to playing in the highly competitive 3A Metro League, which sent eight schools to the postseason, among them the top 3A seed Kent Denver.
SkyView managed to go 4-5-1 against Metro teams, including a 1-1 draw with Peak to Peak, finishing up the schedule with a 4-0 defeat of Bishop Machebeuf for their fourth straight win.
The Hawks have maintained one goalie all season with junior Ekko Hopkins earning 71 saves and allowing 31 goals. While most of the SkyView girls have scored at least once, they are led by freshman Ellie Reynolds by a considerable margin, putting 15 in the net.
The final match
The Panthers started their playoff game on the right foot, with a first-half goal by Laraby assisted by junior Josie Childers giving them the narrow 1-0 lead at halftime.
However, Reynolds struck back in the second half, tying it up to force overtime, then netting another score in extra minutes to give the Hawks the 2-1 victory.
In goal for the full game, Briggs earned 12 saves.
Though they struggled to fully contain SkyView’s leading shooter and were limited to six shots on goal, Middle Park players were constantly taking over the ball with 34 steals throughout their final time on the field.
SkyView’s energy didn’t help them much the following Saturday as they were crushed 10-0 by No. 2 Jefferson Academy.
On the other side of the brackets, The Academy earned a 7-1 road defeat of STRIVE Prep in the first round before being shut out 10-0 by Kent Denver.
With a league title in the books and many memorable moments, Middle Park’s seniors have been perhaps more hyped than anyone on the field in their final weeks of high school sports.
Leading up to their playoff game, the five of them weighed in on what this season has meant to them.
How did you feel with the win against The Academy that won you a league title?
“The win against Academy was a pleasant surprise, but I wouldn’t say shocking. We’ve been working towards this all season and we’ve said every game and every practice has been towards the goal of beating Academy. Since we lost to them last year and didn’t get to play them in 2020 because of COVID, it was definitely an exciting win, and I was really happy with how well we played. Both times we scored, everyone rushed in to hug each other and celebrate together and it was definitely a moment to remember.” — Lily Smith
Do you believe your league title game is an indicator of what to expect from here?
“I am feeling more confident. I think that game showed everyone in the team what can happen when we successfully work together. So now that we have seen that, I’m hopeful that we can really kick it in gear for playoffs.” — Keelan Thomas
“The Academy is for sure a strong contender in 3A, but going into playoffs I think it’s best for us to know that they’re not the strongest opponent we will face this season. I believe it helped most with team chemistry and our trust in one another to come together when we really need to show up.” — Ashtyn Laraby
What all has this final season meant to you?
“This season has been everything I wished for in my last season of high school soccer. Our team has done very well together and we’ve developed into a strong team. Finishing the regular season as league champions was my personal goal for this season and we had an amazing team to complete that task. I look forward to see how we continue into the postseason and no matter how it plays out, I’m still very content with how well our team has done this season as well as how much fun we’ve all had together.” — Jenna King
“This season has meant making lifelong memories with the girls on the team and reflecting on our growth as a team and also as friends. Soccer has always been a form of connection for me and it’s how I’ve made friends every time I had to move. Despite only moving to Grand County four years ago I regard many of the girls like family. With it being my senior season, I want to make it memorable with the people I’ve grown to love and care for.” — Katie Riesberg
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