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Defending champion Air Academy as impressive as ever
It may have been nearly 10 months since the Air Academy girls’ soccer team took the field, but the Kadets didn’t miss a beat.
The defending 4A state champs opened their title defense with a 4-1 win over visiting Evergreen on Thursday night. And they looked impressive doing it.
Using scary team speed and solid teamwork, Air Academy looks like it could be every bit as good as the 2012 team – at least after a one-game sample.
“We have a lot of younger players this year, so my (and the other upperclassmen’s) job is to guide them and settle them down and be role models as to what Air Academy soccer is,” said senior forward Caren Nelson, who tallied a goal and an assist.
The Kadets tried to work the kinks out in the first half and took a 1-0 lead into the break despite having numerous scoring opportunities. When Evergreen headed a ball into the net at the 52:32 mark to tie the game, Air Academy flipped the switch.
Nelson drilled a cross into the box and Brooke Braden scored on the rebound. With the game still in the balance with 5 minutes left, Braden buried her second goal, followed by Nelson’s score just 2 minutes later.
“There were some nerves before the game, but we just tried to come out and do our best to get our chemistry together for this new team,” Braden said. “Our goal is to get everyone on the same page quickly.”
Air Academy played like a team in midseason form in the second 40 minutes. What made it more impressive was that it was only the team’s second time on a full soccer field since practice started.
“We were in the gym last week and only practiced on the field yesterday for the first time because the field was snow-covered,” said Air Academy coach Nancy Sibley, who proudly sported her state championship ring. “I was really pleased that we regrouped so well after they tied the game.”
A team doesn’t win a state championship without overcoming pressure and adversity along the way. Nelson said that her team not only can handle the pressure – but thrives off it.
“I think we do well under pressure, and when we need it, we can perform,” she said. “I think we feel the bull’s eye on our back, but this year is a new year and we have to prove ourselves this year, as well.”
Sibley added that Air Academy soccer isn’t about one game, or even one season. It’s about the future.
“The way we run this program is about life lessons and leadership, which is something you have forever,” she said. “We’ve built a pretty special program here, and we look forward to carrying it on with this team.”