LAKEWOOD — Dakota Ridge faced some adversity before the Class 4A girls soccer state tournament begins this week.
The Eagles — No. 2 in the CHSAANow.com rankings — trailed Evergreen 2-0 late in the first half May 4 at Lakewood Memorial Field. However, Dakota Ridge responded with three unanswered goals to eventually take a 3-2 victory and complete the sweep of the 4A Jeffco League.
“We just had to work as hard as we can, keep pushing to score and not worry about the goals,” Dakota Ridge sophomore Ava Arnold said of the Eagles’ mindset down two goals late in the first half. “We wanted to focus on what was going to happen in the future.”
Arnold cut the lead in half with a laser shot from outside the goalie box in the 38th minute. Evergreen (10-5, 5-3 in 4A Jeffco) still had the lead at halftime with goals by freshman Gianna Weiner (7th minute) and junior Brooke Gimbel (22nd minute), but the lead didn’t last long.
Arnold was taken down in the Cougars’ goalie box in the 44th minute and put the penalty kick into the back of the net to tie the game up 2-2 early in the second half.
Dakota Ridge had trailed 2-0 earlier in the season. The Eagles fell behind to Rampart in a game before Spring Break, only to rally for an identical 3-2 victory.
“We had done it once,” Dakota Ridge senior Bailey Pignatore said of coming back from a 2-goal deficit. “I knew we could do it again.”
Pignatore gave the Eagles (13-1, 8-0) the lead in the 52nd minute on a great ball from Arnold that allowed a run on goal for Pignatore.
“Ava gave me the great feed,” Pignatore said of her 11th goal of the season. “I was just running and knew we needed to score. I was expecting the shot to go over the goalie, but it went in no matter what.”
Dakota Ridge coach John Cassidy had actually just sent a sub to check-in for Pignatore moments before her eventual game-winning goal.
“I knew I just had a certain amount of time to score before I was coming out,” Pignatore said of her sub readying to come in at the next whistle.
Evergreen, who came in playing well with a 4-game winning streak of its own, had a couple of good scoring changes in the final 10 minutes. However, the Cougars could get a ball past Dakota Ridge senior goalie Kassidy Spencer.
“It feels great, especially since last year we weren’t so successful,” Arnold said of the Eagles going 8-0 in 4A Jeffco after having a 2-5 league mark in 5A Jeffco last season. “It feels good that we were successful as a team and playing together to accomplish our goals.”
Matt Heckel — Dakota Ridge Athletic Director — was on hand to present the 4A Jeffco League title plaque to the Eagles after the victory. Cassidy was quick to give Heckel credit as Dakota Ridge went undefeated in conference play for the first time since 2011.
“We would not be here if we didn’t have Matt Heckel as our athletic director,” Cassidy said. “I’ve coached for a long time for different programs and I’ve never had the kind of support that I’ve had at Dakota Ridge.”
Dakota Ridge took the No. 2 seed for the 32-team 4A state tournament. The Eagles were slated to face No. 31 Palmer Ridge on Wednesday, May 10, in the opening round at Lakewood Memorial Field.
“We can do anything that we put our minds to,” Pignatore said heading to the playoffs.
The Cougars have been a major factor in the 4A state tournament over the past several seasons. Evergreen has been the 4A state runner-up three times since 2017 under coach Peter Jeans.
Evergreen is the No. 7 seed and could meet up again with Dakota Ridge in the state quarterfinals Tuesday, May 16, if the seeding holds true.
Dennis Pleuss is the Sports Information Director for Jeffco Public Schools. For more Jeffco coverage, go to CHSAANow.com.