Thu Jun 16th, 2022
Special to the Drum
Taking over in Spring 2022 for predecessor Julia Kidd, Heather Culley’s Crested Butte Lady Titans certainly deserved all the newspaper ink they earned in advancing all the way to the Class 2A Girls’ Soccer State Championship match.
But after shocking bracket opponents Buena Vista, Colorado Springs Fountain Valley, and Lamar to reach the grand finale, CBCS met the same – although not as severe – fate as fellow Southwestern Leaguers Telluride had in ’21, losing in Commerce City at DICK’S Sporting Goods Park to Lafayette-based Alexander Dawson School.
Having led her new crew all the way to the last day had to have made Culley a front-runner for SWL Coach-of-the-Year along with THS’ Ramon Rodriguez (whose Lady Miners defeated Crested Butte twice in posting a perfect 8-0 league record; CBCS ended up a runner-up 6-2), but the honor ultimately went to Ignacio’s Alisha Gullion.
Again, aided by Jessica Bassett and Beau Brooks, Gullion oversaw a squad which finished a fourth-place 2-6 in league and 2-13 overall, but had four losses come by two or fewer goals. Offensively, however, the Lady Bobcats’ improvement was clearly visible; putting forth the most production the program had seen in years, IHS totaled 31 goals – and almost 32, with a strike against, ironically, Crested Butte disallowed due to a handball infraction.
“Our girls are awesome,” Gullion had said during the season, “because they’ve started from the beginning and are just growing, growing and growing.”
“In the first half of the season there was … intimidation, like ‘I’ve never played soccer before’ or ‘I’ve only played one season’ or ‘I (last) played when I was little,’” she continued. “But … they know what to expect; their confidence has gone up.”
Darlyn Mendoza-Lechuga exemplified that elevated enthusiasm. Beginning the ’22 campaign with a hat trick against visiting Del Norte and later able to torch the same Lady Tigers for four goals out in the San Luis Valley, the sophomore finished with a team-leading 11 goals and was rewarded by being named First Team All-SWL.
Junior co-captain Autumn Sage, primarily a defender, was also named First Team – joining her teammate as well as others including Player-of-the-Year contenders Amelie Sante (Telluride, senior forward/midfielder) and Leigh Harpel (Crested Butte, sophomore midfielder), plus Goalkeeper-of-the-Year Jayden Fortner (THS, sophomore).
Versatile enough to have been a midfielder, defender and goalie this year, junior Alexis Ortiz and sophomore defender Kristianna Brann were Ignacio’s Second Team All-League recipients.
“I know what they have to offer … and it shows,” said Gullion, of all the honored Lady ’Cats. “The growth I’ve seen from these girls has been just awesome this year.”
Additional First Team picks from Telluride (9-6 overall), which bowed out in the State Tournament’s quarterfinals to Lamar, were seniors Francesca Schillaci and Kaleigh Reggiannini. Senior Campbell Ryan and junior Ellie O’Neal were also selected from CBCS (12-6 overall), while juniors Maizy Gordon and Courtney Southall represented Ridgway (5-7, 4-4 SWL) and senior Hannah Trujillo hard-luck DNHS (0-15, 0-8).
Also named Second Team All-SWL were THS senior Ava Hagan and freshman Taylor Carter, Crested Butte senior Maddie Bogard and junior Cassidy Wirsing, RHS seniors Aynsleigh Wood and Anna Bartschi, plus Del Norte freshmen Ahyari Fimbres and Emely Gurrola.