Nikki Athey’s return to the sideline from the bleachers was about as successful as possible, though the start of her first season back as coach at Cheyenne Mountain was quite the opposite.
The Indians lost four straight games to open the season, giving up nine goals and scoring just one against eventual playoff teams Broomfield, Valor Christian, The Classical Academy and Sand Creek.
“Very challenging, trying to, every single day think what do I need to change,” Athey remembers.
“I questioned everything at every step.”
There were no wholesale or sweeping changes made. Instead, the Indians gradually progressed into a postseason team, eventually becoming the highest seed to win a 4A championship at 21 and helping Athey earn Gazette Preps Girls’ Soccer Coach of the Year.
Four of the five postseason wins came by a single goal, including a tense 2-1 victory over Evergreen in the final.
“The final whistle blew and I was just like ‘we just did this,’” Athey said, recalling a bit of shock at the accomplishment.
Athey credited her team’s resolve and ability to win close games in the postseason to a loaded Pikes Peak Athletic Conference season where six teams made the playoffs, two in the semifinals.
“I think that also gives us an advantage as a league because we don’t have those games we’re going to 10-0 people,” Athey said.
“You’re prepared to live up to those challenges when those games are tight.”
The Indians finished 4-4 in league play, fifth in the league, but were the last team standing at the end of the season.
Though Athey, who coached Cheyenne Mountain in the '90s and 2000s, was familiar with the school and the team through her position as a physical education and health teacher, the 2019 team wasn’t exactly sure what to expect after playing for Tomas Martinez the last three seasons.
“Coming into the year we had a new coach and we lost a few players, so we were really unsure of how it was going to go because our old coach — Tomas Martinez - I’ve been playing (for) him since I was like 5 years old,” senior Lisa Long said. “It was definitely a big adjustment. We knew it would be kind of a transition year, but yeah, it all worked out in the end.”
There was a little transition for the coach, who decided to be a “soccer mom for a while,” as well, but once the Indians adjusted, they were back to their winning ways.
“Definitely felt like I had to, how do I put it,” Athey said, pausing, “get my feet wet again and get my soccer brain back.”