The turnaround of the Bayfield High School boys soccer team has been evident, especially to the Wolverines’ opponents.
“In just a couple years, that team has come ... just so far,” Crested Butte Community School senior defender Woody Martineau said Monday afternoon after he experienced Bayfield’s increasing success.
The Wolverines (11-3, 8-3 3A Intermountain League) clinched the program’s first appearance in the Class 3A state tournament’s opening round since 2005 with a 1-0 shutout inside Wolverine Country Stadium on Monday. The team’s 11 wins this year are the most in program history.
“Going to playoffs was, like, a mystery to us all, and I believe our team played really good,” said BHS senior Colton Fine. “We all, every single one of us, came out knowing that it was going to be one of our hardest games ever just because of the pressure of making history.”
Every bit as hard-hitting physically as any Bayfield-Crested Butte clash. The sole breakthrough came in the 28th minute.
Senior Armando Lerma, an Ignacio High student this year by way of Mexico, took senior Marcus Isiordia’s set-up pass from the far elbow of the Titans’ 18-yard box, dribbled a few feet into a straight-on firing position from about 20 yards away and zinged his shot past goalkeeper Slater Weil.
“The interesting thing about the IML is every school has an advantage of some sort,”BHS head coach Chris Zoltowski observed. “For example, Crested Butte does not have a football team, which makes soccer paramount.
“For us, we have those hidden gems located at Ignacio; Armando proved that today. He is a soft-spoken and selfless athlete who thrives on assists. Today at pre-game, I told him the time has come for him to get his, and that he did. I couldn’t be more proud of that young man.”
Lerma was absent during the team’s 2-1 loss at Crested Butte earlier in the season.
“Last time, we didn’t have Armando – or Jack Ferguson – and we were kind of down,” Fine said. “And when I saw them push Armando to his left foot, I knew – Armando’s a lefty – it was going to be in right there. Just a beautiful shot.”
Despite gaining the upper hand, the real work for Bayfield was about to begin. Happiness nearly turned to horror in the 35th minute, when Crested Butte senior forward Dylan Eaton blasted a shot off keeper Chad Winkler’s near post.
Trailing at halftime, the visitors started the second half looking to go big, as senior forward Turner Petersen tried catching Winkler too far forward off his line with a shot from 50 yards out. Winkler wasn’t expecting such a long-range cannon shot immediately after the whistle commenced play.
All told, the Titans (6-7-0, 5-5-0) would outshoot the Wolverines by an unofficial 8-2 margin after intermission, and they nearly scored in the 62nd minute. But Winkler was up to the task. All told, Crested Butte unofficially outshot Bayfield 12-11 and put eight tries on frame to the Wolverines’ six. Winkler totaled nine saves and earned the right to look beyond, but not overlook, the Oct. 20 regular-season finale at Telluride (6-6-1, 5-5-1).
“We shall work for the next three days to beat Telluride,” Fine said. “We are all a family trying to stay united and work our butts off. This is a team very capable of doing damage; we have so many skilled players.”
Though BHS visibly slowed at times amid Crested Butte’s rapid bang-bang passing, the squad never lost sight of the ultimate objective and celebrated achieving it by emptying their water cooler upon Zoltowski.
“During our stretching circle we decided, ‘Hey, if we win we need to show coach how much we love him, how much he’s worked for us,’” Fine said, “and just give him something he’s never had before.”
“The boys definitely had me fooled,” Zoltowski said. “The captains looked serious and said, ‘Coach, we need to talk to you.’ As a coach, you know it’s not good. Next thing I know I’m drenched in ice water.
“The best part was after I complained about it being so cold, one of the players stole my line: ‘Suffer silently, coach.’”