Courtney Oakes/The Aurora Sentinel
Cherokee Trail junior midfielder Melissa Fairchild, left, tracks down a loose ball in front of Steamboat Springs junior Elisa Anderson in the first half of a Class 4A girls soccer state playoff game Tuesday afternoon at Legacy Stadium in Aurora.
Aurora Steamboat Springs avoided Broomfield in the Class 4A state girls soccer playoffs this season, so Cherokee Trail seemed like a relief in comparison.
The Sailors lost to the high-powered Eagles, 8-0, in the first round of the 2007 postseason, but Tuesday afternoon got a crack at a team still searching for its first playoff victory.
The Cougars got on the scoreboard first in the 22nd minute and added an insurance goal just 19 seconds into the second half on their way to a 3-0 first-round victory at Legacy Stadium. Twelfth-seeded Cherokee Trail moved on to face either fifth-seeded Fossil Ridge or No. 28 Mesa Ridge in a second-round game Friday.
"We're walking away feeling like we could have done a bit more with this, but for 80 minutes, we fought and played hard," said Sailors coach Rob Bohlmann, whose team finished the season 11-4-1. "If we'd been able to tie it up and have a little bit more of an attacking presence, we felt like this is a team we could play with, but it didn't happen for us" Tuesday.
Steamboat Springs came out of the gate strong, withstanding some early pressure by a speedy Cherokee Trail team and carrying most of the possession for the first 15 minutes of the contest with sophomore Kiersten Henry running things in the midfield.
The Sailors couldn't find the final touch, however, as they were repeatedly denied by a Cougars defense which had posted four shutouts in its last five games.
Freshman Hayley Brookshire and sophomore Mia Quick got off back-to-back shots in the 14th minute, but Cherokee Trail goalkeeper Alyssa Reed had no problem saving either.
"We were knocking; for a period of about 15 minutes, we had really good rhythm and looked like we were going to create some really good opportunities, but it just didn't quite happen," Bohlmann said.
Cherokee Trail - which had outscored its past three regular season opponents 29-0 - got on the scoreboard in the 22nd minute when junior midfielder Melissa Fairchild sped down the left wing and sent a cross to junior Brooke Tyler-Oloughlin, who redirected it past Steamboat Springs junior goalie Hanna Berglund from point-blank range for her fourth goal of the season.
The game went to halftime at 1-0, but the Cougars needed just 19 seconds to pad their lead in the second half.
High-scoring sophomore forward Alexis Serrano drove up the right side wing and drilled a shot inside the far post for her 27th goal of the season to give Cherokee Trail a two-goal edge that made a comeback much more of a daunting task for the Sailors.
"We played really well and stuck with them the entire game," Berglund said. "There was never a doubt in my mind that we could come back. Luck just wasn't on our side."
Sophomore Breanna Turner capped the Cougars' scoring with a 35-yard strike that sailed just over Berglund's head and into the net with just more than two minutes remaining.
Despite the final result, Bohlmann saw some good signs from a young team with just two seniors in Carly Earp and Miranda Schrock and three freshmen in its starting group.
"We'll be right back at it," Bohlmann said. "We feel good about things. The two seniors will be graduating and moving on, but they can feel great about their effort and quantify things with the way we left the playoff game against Broomfield. The gap there was pretty substantial. We've really closed the gap. We've got a young squad and the potential is big time."