The transformation from nervous bundle of energy to dominating victor closely mirrored the Durango High School girls lacrosse program’s journey to this point.
Early in Friday’s game with Grand Junction, DHS struggled to move the ball and spent way too much time in the defensive zone before taking a deep breath and returning to the style that put the Demons where they sit now.
In much the same way, Durango struggled in the program’s infancy just four years ago before working up to the skills the players possess now, and now the Demons have a tangible result to show off for their hard work: a Mountain League championship.
Durango struggled early, trailing 4-2 before rattling off nine unanswered goals, and behind the superlative play of goaltender Alyssa Spencer, made the lead stand up for a 12-5 victory Friday over the Tigers at DHS Stadium that clinched both the first league title and first playoff berth in program history.
In the beginning, it seemed as though the enormity of the game rattled the Demons (10-1, 8-0 ML). Grand Junction went up 2-0 early before goals from Jessie Ransford and the speedy Siena Gumbiner evened the score.
The Tigers regained a 4-2 advantage as Durango struggled to maintain possession, giving the Demons’ head coach even more reason to be nervous.
“Their nerves were affecting their play, which was making me way more nervous,” a beaming Jenni Darlow said. “On the sideline, I’m freaking out.”
But during a first-half timeout and again at halftime, the Demons regrouped.
Spencer pointed out that Grand Junction goalie Holly Meer – 11 first-half saves and 19 total – is similar to herself, a goalie DHS faces all the time in practice but more susceptible to low shots.
Alyssa Montoya and Tymbree Hawkins got the message first, scoring twice to pull DHS even at 4 at halftime.
“When you finally kind of control your nerves and kind of get that mental calmness and finally place your shot, make those low shots, that got a lot better for all of us,” said Gumbiner, daughter of Geoff and Jennifer Burbey.
The floodgates opened for the Demons at the start of the second half. Goals from Gumbiner, Hawkins and Montoya put DHS up 7-4 just 3:02 into the frame, and Ransford, Gumbiner, Mollie Bennett and Ransford again pushed the lead to as much as 11-4.
Spencer would concede once before Ransford’s fourth goal of the game capped the scoring, but otherwise, the Fort Lewis College signee was impenetrable, stopping 10 of the 11 shots on goal she saw in the second half for a total of 19 saves.
“She’s great. ... When our defense falters she’s always there to pick us up,” said Gumbiner, another FLC recruit.
“Without her, we would probably be in some trouble.”
One of several seniors who’ve been with the program all four years it has existed, Spencer was excited with the title and subsequent postseason berth.
“A major accomplishment,” said Spencer, daughter of Rhoda Schoonover. “We’ve waited for a long time for this, and we’ve improved so much.”
The two teams will meet again at 11 a.m. today in a nonleague affair, but Darlow, focus always forward, is looking for a victory for seeding purposes. The Mountain League champion can be seeded no lower than 13th, but Durango’s head coach, soaked to the bone after a celebratory water-cooler drenching, is pulling for a first-round bye.
“I need to find something magic so we don’t start a game not ready. ... We need to win (today), and we need to start the way we finished (Friday),” she said.