ENGLEWOOD - Rock Canyon had its foot on Cherry Creek’s throat for so long, but the Bruins would only cough up one goal.
Cherry Creek High School girls soccer had three huge opportunities May 19 at Englewood High School during the Class 5A state championship semifinals game against Rock Canyon. Two of those opportunities were hammered home, and one of them was a golden goal in the second overtime period.
The No. 5 seeded Bruins (14-4-1) beat No. 9 Rock Canyon (12-4-3) by a 2-1 double-overtime final, advancing to the state championship against No. 15 Fairview Wednesday night at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
The game winning goal came after an unlucky bounce over the wall of Rock Canyon’s defense, while Cherry Creek’s Zsuria Phare, who scored the first goal of the game for a 1-0 Bruins lead at halftime, penetrated the Jaguars backline.
With a sharp shot across the box, Phare’s pass found Essence LaNeir who got a solid redirect past Rock Canyon goalkeeper Julia Henning for the sudden win.
LaNeir said Phare and she practice that play all the time.
“She always tries to find me,” LaNeir said. “I was just hoping to get a touch on it. Words can’t explain what I’m feeling right now.”
LaNeir said a double overtime win in the semifinals was going to give the Bruins a ton of confidence going into the finals.
With Cherry Creek’s prom being held the same night as the semifinals, the Bruins were motivated not to head to the dance that evening having suffered a loss in the final four.
Bruins coach David Paynter said his team was nervous, maybe because it was the day of prom or maybe because Rock Canyon came to the game having knocked off No. 1 seeded Mountain Vista in a post-overtime shootout in the quarterfinals.
Rock Canyon offered the Bruins one of the most physical games they’ve seen all season. Cherry Creek is normally accustomed to being the physical team.
“Usually we have our way with opponents in the midfield, but they’re a big team,” Paynter said. “When we needed to get a goal, we played high-powered. When we got one, we sort of sat back on it. We needed to stay on them the entire time.”
Jaguars coach Matt Henbest said he felt Rock Canyon definitely carried the possession of the game and were the more dangerous team. He doesn’t think the win over Mountain Vista psyched the Bruins out a bit.
“It may have helped in terms of knowing what they would face. Maybe not necessarily (Rock Canyon) being harder than what they’ve already taken care of,” Henbest said.
The Jaguars had a healthy respect for Cherry Creek coming into the semifinals. It pleased Henbest to see the players not let the win over the Golden Eagles go to their heads.
“We needed a short term memory from that, and I’m glad we didn’t have this hangover of emotions from (the quarterfinals),” the coach said.
After Phare’s goal in the first period, Rock Canyon put on the pressure for most of the second period until the Bruins gave up a goal to freshman Rebecca Pousma who nailed a shot from the right side of the 16-meter box.
In goal, Julia Henning finished with five saves, while the determined offense of Rock Canyon forced Bruins goalkeeper Alex Kahalley to come up with 11 saves for the win.
Rock Canyon finished the season with its first appearance in the state semifinals in the program’s history. In the Continental League, the Jaguars took second place in the conference standings.
Cherry Creek 2, Rock Canyon 1 (2OT)
Rock Canyon 0 1 (0) (0) - 1
Cherry Creek 1 0 (0) (1) - 2
Scores/assists: RC, Rebecca Pousma 1-0; CC, Zsuria Phare 1-1, Essence LaNeir 1-0.
Goalkeeping: RC, Julia Henning 2-5 (61); CC, Alex Kahalley 1-11.