AURORA | In contrast to how hard it had been to try to win the Predators Cup for nearly a decade, things couldn’t have seemed easier for the Cherokee Trail boys lacrosse team Monday night.
The Cougars had seen Grandview walk away with the traveling trophy named for the nature of the two schools’ mascots — and bragging rights between the fierce neighborhood rivals — every time since it had become a part of the series in 2014 (a year after Cherokee Trail’s last win in the series), but it was finally theirs after a game in which everything went right.
Cherokee Trail scored at least three goals in every quarter and led by as many as 11 goals as it snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Wolves and delivered the trophy to Matt Cawley, who is in his first season with the program.
“It’s a great feeling, the last three years we’ve lost to them and last year’s seniors had a really hard time losing it, so this year is a joy,” said senior midfielder Craig Nam, one of six Cougars to score multiple goals.
PHOTO GALLERY FROM BOYS PREDATORS CUP GAME, HERE
The tone was set from the opening period by Cherokee Trail (7-5) — which was in need of a win after dropping four of its last five games after a 5-1 start — as it possessed the ball for much of the opening quarter and got on the scoreboard first on a goal by junior Nate Gilmore, the team’s leading scorer.
Nam and junior Evan Mata (who tied sophomore Dempsey Gibbs for game-high honors with four goals) also scored in the quarter and four different players scored in the second quarter as the Cougars took a 7-2 edge into the break.
“Our offense was clicking from the start, we had a lot of possession and shots were dropping,” said Cherokee Trail senior Luke Aspnes, who had two goals in the game.
Coach Conner Graves’ Grandview team (2-8) got goals from junior Joe Alie — who came into the game with 30 goals on the season — to bookend the conclusion of the first half and beginning of the second half, but found the going difficult against a solid Cherokee Trail defense backed by junior goalie Ryan Hubbard, who turned aside seven of the 12 shots he faced.
After the Wolves’ brief rally, Gibbs, Mata (who ripped in a long shot) and Aspnes (who scored with one hand) countered with scores in just over a minute that gave Cherokee Trail a comfortable seven-goal margin.
Freshman Mason Kelly and junior Collin McClure scored back to back and Alie added two more goals, including the first of the fourth quarter, but the Wolves couldn’t get any closer than six goals.
Cherokee Trail ripped off six straight goals from five different players after that to take firm command.
“Last year, they really poured it on us, so we wanted to give it right back to them,” Nam said. “That was our whole goal.”
Though he is new to the Cherokee Trail-Grandview rivalry after coming over from Mullen (where he was on the sideline in a playoff loss to the Cougars last season), Cawley very much came to realize how important winning the game was to his players.
“A lot of these guys are friends, they played with and against each other when they were younger and got to know each others’ families,” Cawley said. “I think any time we get both of these communities together, it’s a pretty big deal. It’s good we finally got the ‘W’ and brought it to CT.
“I’m happy for our guys, especially the seniors, who had lost to them in the past and had the COVID year and everything they’ve gone through. This is a good final chapter for their careers in this rivalry.”
As importantly as the win — which will bring home a trophy that can be displayed in the school until next spring — the win also was a needed shot of momentum for the Cougars.
Cherokee Trail has defending Class 5A state champion and preseason No. 1 Arapahoe and undefeated Cherry Creek (the current No. 1 team in the CHSAANow.com coaches poll) among its final three opponents as it seeks a spot in the postseason.
“We’ve had a couple of rough games lately, so it’s good to get a nice win leading into a couple of hard games,” Aspnes said.
Cherokee Trail has a road league contest ahead at 6 p.m. Friday at Denver East (4-6), while Grandview is in action the same day at 4:30 p.m. at Denver South (6-3).
The Wolves are in the midst of a four-game stretch that sees them face three top-10 teams with No. 7 Colorado Academy and No. 8 Kent Denver ahead after they lost to No. 10 Arapahoe April 14.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
CHEROKEE TRAIL 18, GRANDVIEW 9
Score by quarters:
Grandview 1 1 4 3 — 9
Cherokee Trail 3 4 5 6 — 18
First quarter: Cherokee Trail — Nate Gilmore (Brek Thielen), 7:18; Cherokee Trail — Evan Mata, 6:13; Grandview — Keegan Howells, 3:43; Cherokee Trail — Craig Nam, 0:13
Second quarter: Cherokee Trail — Sam Burnette, 11:03; Cherokee Trail — Dempsey Gibbs, 10:00; Cherokee Trail — Luke Aspnes, 3:43; Cherokee Trail — Mata, 3:09; Grandview — Joe Alie (Howells), 0:46
Third quarter: Grandview — Alie (Cameron Festi), 11:30; Cherokee Trail — Gibbs, 9:59; Cherokee Trail — Mata, 9:32; Cherokee Trail — Aspnes (Brek Thielen), 8:53; Grandview — Mason Kelly (Howells), 6:43; Grandview — Collin McClure, 5:08; Cherokee Trail — Gilmore (Burnette), 4:53; Grandview — Alie, 4:28; Cherokee Trail — Gibbs, 3:23
Fourth quarter: Grandview — Alie (Kelly), 10:00; Cherokee Trail — Gibbs, 8:59; Cherokee Trail — Nam, 8:21; Cherokee Trail — Mata, 7:32; Cherokee Trail — Brek Thielen, 6:16; Cherokee Trail — Gabe Stewart, 4:46; Cherokee Trail — Brek Thielen, 3:46; Grandview — Cameron Festi, 3:29; Grandview — Mitchell Festi, 1:21