MONUMENT - Palmer Ridge came within a whisker of advancing to the first state championship game in 2012, coming up short on penalty kicks against Green Mountain in the semifinals.
That tough loss, combined with a gritty group of returning starters and talented newcomers, should give the Bears all the motivation they need to make another solid run.
“The girls just want to get back there again,” said Palmer coach Nick Odil. “There's always that motivation. That never hurts.”
Odil has put together a “rigorous” schedule to help prepare his team for the brutal Class 4A Pikes Peak Athletic Conference, which includes the likes of defending state champion Air Academy, Cheyenne Mountain and Lewis-Palmer. Those squads, along with Palmer Ridge, earned four of the top eight seeds in last year's state playoffs.
“We'll try to get better with every game,” Odil said.
The Bears got off to a great start in their season opener on March 8 with a 4-1 victory over 5A Highlands Ranch. Sophomore forward Mackenzie Gouner had two goals and an assist, and senior forward Taylor Schnorr had a goal an assist.
Other top players on this year's team include sophomore wing Madison Tominello (7 goals, 3 assists in 2012), senior midfielder Avery Shook (4-year starter), senior defender Holly Weyand (4-years starter), junior defender Ali Meyer and junior goalkeeper Kaylyn Smith (4 goals allowed in 2012).
The Bears added their largest freshman class ever, which allowed the program to add a third team.
“The freshman class has a lot of talent which should add strength to the program immediately,” Odil said.
THE CLASSICAL ACADEMY
This just might be the most talented team Blake Galvin has ever had in his four years coaching the Titans. Seven of his players have already signed or committed to play soccer in college.
“I think this is probably pretty uncommon,” Galvin said. “I think it's a little bit of an anomaly.”
The Titans established their dominance early this season with a 4-1 victory over traditional state power Kent Denver on March 8. Seniors Meghan Troupe had a pair of goals, while Caitlyn Troup and Joanie Jacks each added a goal.
The Troupe sisters, along with Jacks have signed scholarships. Also inking their names to deals are Claire LaValley, Kierra Mattingly and Sarah Turner. Goalkeeper Chrissy Lind has committed to Concordia in Nebraska and is expected to sign this spring.
The Titans finished 12-3-3 last season, losing in the quarterfinals of the state tournament. They won the 3A state championship in 2011.
Other top players on this year's squad include juniors Bonnie Buzzetta and Heather Sherrill, and sophomore Natalie Rees.
The Rangers are coming off a solid season in which they finished 10-6-1 and were the No. 8 seed in the 4A state playoffs.
Third-year coach Joe Martin lost his top two scorers in Kourtney Guetlein (20 goals, 9 assists) and Erika Balk (13, 10). Guetlein is at for Washington State, where she played in all 20 games (starting four) and was named to the Pac 12 All-Academic team in the fall.
The cabinet isn't exactly bare, however, with the return of senior midfielders Lindsey Ryals (6 goals) and Cassidy Thomas. Ryals scored two goals in the team's 3-0 season-opening victory over Pueblo South on March 7.
Key returning defenders include juniors Stacie Loidholt and Miranda Brown.
Also back are the Belisairo triplets - Kristen, Nicole and Lauren. The Rangers landed a key transfer from Discovery Canyon in junior forward Ali Surage.
“A lot of our success depends on how much we come together, what we want to accomplish and how far they want to go,” Martin said.
Martin has put together a tough non-league schedule to help prepare the team for the brutal PPAC.
Maren McCrary takes over as the Thunder's new soccer coach. She inherits a team that went 5-8-2 last season.
Most of the key players return, including senior Grace Adams (4 goals, 2 assists), who signed with Division II Western State last month. Other top players are sophomores Jamie Keith (9 goals), Beth Plentl (7 goals, 5 assists) and Kendall Schauer (5 goals).
The Thunder opened its season March 12 at Valor Christian.