Moffat County soccer guts it out with double duty in home finale

Andy Bockelman
For the Craig Press

For a team that’s been faced with a lot of setbacks this spring, one more unusual circumstance came about Thursday afternoon for Moffat County High School girls soccer.

And, as with everything that’s been different than they planned this season, the Bulldogs grit their teeth and got through it as a team.

MCHS powered through not one but two opponents in their final time on their home field, facing not only the Grand Valley squad they were expecting, but also a second foe.

To the home team’s confusion, the bus for the Basalt Longhorns pulled into the MoCo parking lot along with the one carrying the Cardinals. Though the Dogs were originally supposed to play in Basalt next week, a scheduling mishap resulted in the Longhorns coming to Craig.

And, rather than sending the third team home, Moffat County coaches agreed to another game that afternoon.

The Grand Valley game was already tough enough, given a string of mercy-rule losses in recent weeks — falling 10-0 to Coal Ridge, Delta, Aspen and Middle Park — and a smaller bench due to multiple players out with injuries.

A sweltering heat in the mid-80s also didn’t help, and coaches agreed to institute frequent water break timeouts to avoid athletes from getting dehydrated.

An equally winless Grand Valley was eager to be on the giving side of a beatdown, taking a 5-0 lead in the first half.

With keeper Haley Mendoza stepping into goal for the first time and other players on the field shifted around to new positions, the Bulldogs took some time to get a rhythm going.

The second half was trying too, but Bulldogs amped up their aggression against the Cardinals to ensure it wouldn’t be easy.

On the negative side, Grand Valley still put four more in the net, yet the positive was a full game without a loss by double digits, the first such score for MoCo since an 8-0 defeat in Rifle.

“They’ve really had to adapt to a lot of changes,” MCHS head coach Chelsea Suazo said of her players. “For what we have and the numbers we’re playing with, I think we’re doing well. They’re still enjoying it and trying their hardest.”

While they might have otherwise been celebrating a result that was a little better than they hoped, the Dogs only had a brief respite before they went back on the field against Basalt.

Due to MCHS’s disadvantage in already being weary, the format was reconfigured to a 9-on-9 field with 30-minute halves rather than the usual 40.

Again, it wasn’t easy as the Longhorns attacked the box to get it to 4-0 before the break, but the first game also taught the home team where they needed to tune up things.

“I feel like we’re talking more, so it’s easier, and our defense is coming up more and helping me a lot more,” Mendoza said.

With plenty of deflections thanks to being more emboldened, Mendoza was forced to come out of goal late in the game to ice a wounded wrist after several shots got past her, and from there Basalt swiftly scored enough to make it 10-0 with about 10 minutes remaining.

While much of the team is on the young side, captain Ofelia Quezada was one of the upperclassmen to take command this season after being part of Bulldog soccer throughout her high school career.

Through this year, she’s worked to keep an atmosphere of support and positivity.

“It has been rough, but we still have fun and that’s what matters,” Quezada said. “We all stay really united and keep each other going, even when we want to give up. We all build each other back up.”

Fellow senior Kelsey McDiffett is in her first and only season with the team, and though conditions were tougher than she expected, she has appreciated the rapport.

“Everyone seems to really get along, maybe because we don’t have that many girls,” McDiffett said, adding that the small group has banded together amid hard times.

MCHS will face Grand Valley once again on the road June 12 to round out their season.

For the athletes returning for 2022 — hopefully without a schedule that runs into June — Suazo is ready to keep building in what will also be her sophomore season as head of the team.

“I think we’re realizing with the amount of new talent we have and the lack of a middle school program that we really need to focus on foundations with the girls,” Suazo said. “More conditioning, more basics so we can move forward.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Craig and Moffat County make the Craig Press’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.