Led by defense, ’Dogs use strong finish to make postseason
It appears green is Lexie Russell’s and Mandy Brueggman’s favorite color.
Russell’s most recent toenail color is green. Brueggman’s soccer shoes are bright green, the color she’s worn since she was a young player.
That the two would sport green for Palisade High School’s regular-season soccer finale on Thursday was a bit ironic, considering the Bulldogs were playing Delta.
Green turned out to be the lucky color for Palisade’s two defensive standouts, who helped the Bulldogs defeat the Panthers 2-1.
The victory assured Palisade of its first Class 4A state playoff berth in 11 years.
“It feels unreal but at the same time I’m so excited,” Brueggman said.
“The words can’t even come out, I’m so excited,” Russell said. “I looked at Mandy (after the game) and I almost started to cry.”
“I did start to cry,” Brueggman said.
Just one week ago, that playoff berth looked like a far-off dream. After losing three players to injury, Palisade was coming off its fourth loss in six games and its worst loss of the season, 6-0 at Glenwood Springs. The Bulldogs basically had to go undefeated in order to gain the Western Slope League’s final berth.
“We just told ourselves we had to win out,” Russell said.
“(The loss to Glenwood) was a wake-up call for us,” Brueggman said. “(We needed to) get our heads back in the game.”
Being the lone seniors and co-captains, Russell and Brueggman conducted some team-bonding sessions.
“We also had serious practices where we practiced like we were going to play,” Brueggman said.
With the three injuries, coach Luann Ehlers and her assistant, Raina Fine, had to come up with another game plan. It involved switching offenses, moving some defenders up front and centering the front line around freshman Flannery Davis.
The plan worked. In four games over six days, the Bulldogs (7-6, 7-5 WSL) allowed only one goal — an own-goal early in the second half on Thursday.
At that point, the game was tied 1-1 after Davis had scored 19 minutes into the first half, her ninth goal in the past five games.
Ten minutes later, Mackenzie Clark put Palisade back in front, scoring from the right side from 15 yards out on a left-footed shot.
From there on, it was up to the Palisade defense, led by its two seniors, Russell and Brueggman.
After being outshot 4-0 in the first 18 minutes, Palisade controlled the tempo, outshooting the Panthers 14-5 the rest of the way.
Palisade will learn its playoff fate Sunday when the 4A state bracket is announced.
“It’s like the first time you get to go to Disneyland,” Brueggman said.