GJ ties Indians, clinches playoff berth
Only in soccer.
What was a must-win game for the Grand Junction High School girls soccer team turned into a tough draw Friday at Long Family Memorial Park.
A 1-1 tie with Montrose cost the Tigers the Southwestern League title, but as the top Class 5A team in the league, they’re still playoff-bound.
The top 5A team in each of the 12 Colorado leagues receive automatic playoff bids, and 20 at-large bids round out the bracket.
Grand Junction (10-4-1, 7-2-1 SWL) finished just in front of Fruita Monument in league play, with a 7-2-1 league record to Fruita’s 7-3.
In the first 10 minutes of the game, Grand Junction utilized the through ball as it has all season. Taylor Chaffetz snuck a skipping pass through Montrose’s (5-9-3, 4-4-2 SWL) defense that Leah Swander ran down before tapping it past Montrose’s goalie.
“Out of 15 goals that’s maybe the seventh or eighth time she’s scored in that fashion this year,” coach Joe Graham said. “It’s nice to have Leah Swander to finish up top.”
Swander, a freshman, leads the SWL with 15 goals. She is ahead of Fruita’s Courtney Coffee, also a freshman, by five goals.
Early in the second half, Swander went down after a firm tackle from a Montrose defender and was visibly shaken. Graham said the tackle aggravated a nagging foot injury. Although she played out the remainder of the game, Swander didn’t control the ball at all in the second half and was visibly slower.
“It’s been reoccurring,” Graham said. “She went down in the first game against Columbine. She’s a stud and it’s almost the end of the season.
“Part of it’s maturity and knowing you’re going to be all right. The beginning of the season I would have been out (on the field) when she went down, but now I know that she’s OK.”
With the top scorer in the league, Grand Junction is known for its offensive talents, but, Graham said, his focus has been on developing a strong defense.
Before Montrose, the Tigers shut out five straight league opponents, and allowed only two goals in their previous eight league contests.
“This year we’ve really focused on building a strong back line that communicates well,” Graham said. “If we keep doing what we’re doing, talent will develop on its own.”
Grand Junction and Montrose now await playoff pairings, which will be released at 9 a.m. on Sunday.
“We need to have better preparation,” Graham said. “Before (Montrose) we had a bad practice. I think it’s easy for the girls to get excited when they’re playing under the lights, but they need to be ready for those games with a Saturday afternoon feeling where they have to be ready every play.”