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Air Academy claims girls' soccer title on Schweiss' goal in the final 3 minutes
COMMERCE CITY – Years have passed since Air Academy coach Nancy Sibley saw the Kadets score the state's final goal of the season.
Sibley's view was a bit different this time, but the joy was the same.
Sarah Schweiss rifled the game-winner for the Kadets from 35 yards out with fewer than 3 minute remaining to give the school its third championship this year (No. 4 came a few hours later) with a 3-2 win over Green Mountain on Wednesday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
For Sibley, it was 1993 all over again. That's when Sibley, as a defender, watched Andrea Melde put in the game-winning goal in the 5A state title game.
The Kadets hadn't won a girls' soccer title since then, and the long wait could be felt in the silent tension as everyone in the drenched stadium awaited the result as the ball left Schweiss’ right foot.
“I was like, ‘Dear god, go in,’” Sibley said. “When we won it in 1993, our go-to player Andi Melde won it for us in the last 2 minutes and Sarah did the same today. Sarah is the Andi Melde of my era.”
Tori Reifschneider threw it in to Schweiss, who took one touch and let it rip.
“It felt good,” said Schweiss, the team's leading scorer. “You have those shots where you’re like, ‘Oh god, that’s not going in.’ But when I struck it, it was really clean and thorough and when I saw it I was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s going to go in.’”
The title continued an unprecedented run of success for the District 20 school. Air Academy won the girls' 4A title in a romp in March with Reifschneider playing a role, then the boys' swimming team won 4A last week. Fewer than 3 hours after the soccer title, the girls' lacrosse team captured Colorado's crown with an upset of Cherry Creek.
The baseball team plays this weekend as one of four teams alive in the 4A bracket, so the run may not yet be complete.
Securing this championship wasn't a certainty until the final seconds.
In the first half, Green Mountain (16-1-2) and Air Academy (17-3) traded goals. First, Caren Nelson, who seemed constantly open, dribbled around goalie Lindsey Hendon and slid in the game’s first goal in the 6th minute.
It was Nelson's sixth goal in five state tournament games this season.
“I just knew I had to find the ball today,” said Nelson, who had four shots. “It was just coming to me.”
Green Mountain tied it later in the half off a Lindsay Forrest header.
But as the rain picked up in the second half, so did the scoring.
First, Air Academy’s Brooke Braden sent a 25-yard rope in to retake the lead as the ball grazed off the bottom of the top crossbar before resting in the back of the net.
Green Mountain tied the score on an Air Academy own-goal as Reifschneider, playing on the wet field, put the ball past her keeper Sierra Daniger with just over 6 minutes to play.
“It just went off my foot wrong,” Reifschneider said.
Thirty second later, Green Mountain hit the right post as the momentum all of a sudden seemed to be completely one-sided.
But things changed fast.
Down but not out, Reifschneider’s throw-in 4 minutes later led to the game-winning goal.
After the game, the Kadets rushed to their sideline exchanging hugs and wiping away tears of joy.
For a moment, Reifschneider couldn’t get past the own-goal that unforgivingly slipped off her foot.
But then, like the rest of her team, she grinned from ear-to-ear as she is the first Air Academy student to win two state titles in one year.
“They are both exciting,” said Reifschneider who was pressed about which title was more exciting — soccer or basketball. “But probably this one since it was so tight.”