The Panthers are in some uncharted territory. Second-year head coach Kevin McGarigal has the M-CHS boys soccer team off to a 2-1 start to the season, thanks to a pair of victories over Telluride, 1-0, and Bayfield, 5-2, on their home pitch.
M-CHS 1, Telluride 0 While some of the other regional foes dealt with snow coverage on their home fields, the Panthers (2-1, 1-1 3A Southwest League) enjoyed the early part of the season on familiar turf and sought to take advantage against perennial 2A power Telluride on March 17.
The Panthers stymied the vaunted Miner attack, while junior goalkeeper Trinidad McDonell provided a series of important saves to keep the match deadlocked into the late stages of the second half. As the match wore on, the M-CHS attack had few clear chances, but continued to apply pressure on the Miner back line.
Then, just 10 minutes before full time, the ball fell to senior captain Bruce Cudkowicz at the top of the penalty box. Opting to take his chance, the midfielder lashed a low driving shot that ripped the lower left corner of the goal netting, to give the Panthers a precious lead.
Senior center halfback Hayden Tallmadge helped marshal a well-organized defense that helped preserve the lead, and provided the Panthers with their first season opening win since 2013.
Pagosa Springs 3, M-CHS 2 (2 OT)With a chance to continue their unbeaten start to the season, the Panthers were left to rue missed opportunities against 3A Southwest league foe Pagosa Springs, as M-CHS conceded two late goals in regulation, then an overtime winner to the Pirates in a 3-2 loss.
Junior Ben Byerly opened the account for the Panthers on March 19, scoring a well-timed shot that lofted over the hard-charging Pirate goalkeeper into the upper corner of the net for a 1-0 halftime lead.
Senior forward Cavin Martinez doubled the M-CHS advantage midway through the second half, taking a through ball, and beating two defenders and the goalkeeper to the ball, poking it past all three to tally his first goal of the season.
The Panthers led 2-0 heading into the final ten minutes, but Pagosa Springs responded with a late push, scoring twice within that span, including a heartbreaking goal in the final minute of regulation, to force overtime.
Then, in the extra session, the Panthers and Pirates exchanged good chances, before, in the final minute of extra time, the Pirates directed in a rebound from a McDonell save to steal the 3-2 win.
M-CHS 5, Bayfield 2The Panthers offense rebounded in fine fashion against Bayfield on March 23, as M-CHS scored twice in the first half, then three more times in the second to run away from the Wolverines.
Sophomore Evan Lamunyon put on a display to remember, scoring a pair of goals on a day when the Panther offense peppered the Bayfield goal with 15 shots.
Martinez also had a brace on the afternoon, including a first half penalty, as the Panthers continued their recent run of good form against Bayfield, picking up their fifth consecutive victory over their league rivals. In the process, the Panthers improved to 2-1 to begin a season for the first time since 2010.
M-CHS will host Alamosa on Saturday, April 3rd at 12 p.m. for a crucial meeting against the league-leading Mean Moose. The Panthers will then play all four of their opponents for a second meeting, this time on the road in the final weeks of the shortened spring campaign.