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Evergreen soccer defeats Conifer in rivalry matchup

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By Craig Harper

EVERGREEN — Saddled with a 1-5 record and a two-game losing streak, the last thing it seemed the Evergreen soccer team needed heading into the annual Mountain Cup against rival Conifer was the absence of head coach Ross Fowler on the sideline.

But maybe having Fowler relegated to keeping statistics in the EHS press box was a shot in the arm for the Cougars, with Fowler on suspension for an undisclosed reason.

Held to one goal in the previous two games, Evergreen scored the first three — one on a penalty kick, two on free kicks — in a 3-1 victory on Friday that extended the Cougars’ dominance in the series.

Conifer (2-6) prevented a four-year scoring drought in the series on Kadn Whaley’s free kick with 16:13 left, but EHS has not lost to the Lobos since 2006, with a tie in ’07.

“I hated it. I hated every second of it,’’ Fowler said of watching from afar as assistant coach Brad Davies guided the Cougars. “I think I’m a decent stat guy, but I think my forte is more coaching.’’

But Fowler did like what he saw from his team, which is in rebuilding mode less than two years removed from its 4A state championship.

“Yeah, I think so,’’ Fowler replied when asked if this was Evergreen’s best performance this season. “I think from start to finish we were very consistent. We gave away too many fouls, and we always say if we give away too many fouls, especially in our half, we’re going to get hurt. And they managed to get a goal from that play (with a) great finish from the kid who took the free kick.

 “But I’m very, very pleased with the attitude of the team. We addressed this at the first game (looking forward to) the rest of the season, and that’s been very much the mentality from the players.’’

Evergreen dominated the first half, but only had a 1-0 lead at the break on sophomore Nick Graziano’s penalty kick inside the left goalpost that beat Conifer goalkeeper Bowen Taylor at the 12:33 mark.

Conifer brought its two-game winning streak into the match and had to think this was its best opportunity in recent years of beating Evergreen.

“We were feeling good. We thought we had a good chance,’’ said Whaley, a senior and Conifer’s top returning scorer from a year ago with eight goals (two this year). “Sometimes it doesn’t go your way. A PK, two free kicks, one wonderful strike — it’s hard to come back from those. But tomorrow’s a new day.’’

Conifer managed just one shot on goal, a first-half header on a free kick by Whaley, as Evergreen built the 3-0 lead. The Cougars had more chances, but couldn’t convert until the penalty kick.

 “We started flat and gave them the first 30 minutes,’’ said third-year Conifer coach Jason Woolridge. “We didn’t play our game; we played theirs. And that’s not how we play. Because we allowed that to happen. It took us out of the game. … We fought back and that definitely changed the tempo of the whole game.’’

Fowler knew coming in Evergreen would be hard-pressed to match its success of the previous two seasons. The Cougars graduated three of their top four goal scorers (Ryan Gutberlet, now a junior, had seven) from a 2016 team that went 10-6-2 and reached the 4A quarterfinals, losing 1-0 to Pueblo West. Their non-4A Jeffco League schedule has included Air Academy and Durango, ranked 1 and 5 in last week’s CHSAA 4A poll; Kent Denver, No. 2 in 3A; and a pair of 5A opponents, Palmer and Arvada West.

Take away six goals against Arvada West and Conifer, and the Cougars have three in the other five games.

 “That was by design, just to prepare us for league games,’’ Fowler said of the schedule. “We’re finding our stride and playing some decent soccer, but we’re just not turning it into goals.’’

The Cougars opened 4A Jeffco play with a 5-3 loss to D’Evelyn prior to facing Conifer and begin league play in earnest this week, starting with Golden on Wednesday.

Conifer, which returns the bulk of a 2016 squad that was 3-12 overall and 1-5 in its first year in the 3A/4A Colorado 7 League after moving from the Jeffco, began league play on Tuesday against Fort Lupton.