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M-CHS soccer eyes league crown

Panthers junior Trinidad McDonell grabs a corner kick while his teammates watch on in a home match against Alamosa in April.
Panthers return wealth of talent from spring season

The Panthers keep inching their way toward the top. For Montezuma-Cortez High School, the past four years has been an ascendency into the league title conversation.

Entering the 2021 fall season, the Panthers recall how tantalizingly close they came to a league crown during spring – finishing second to Alamosa – and now place their sights set on climbing up one more rung of the ladder.

Coming off a 4-4 season, third-year head coach Kevin McGarigal believes he has a core group of returners that have the focus and poise to help the Panthers attain that goal. “We have a number of emerging leaders on this team,” said McGarigal, “and we’re going to look for our leaders to be effective communicators to help inspire their teammates to achieve more.”

Included among them is the team’s top returning scorer, senior Ben Byerly, who tallied six goals and five assists during the spring season. “He brings a passion to the game,” commended McGarigal, “and that serves as a model for the rest of the team to follow.”

Byerly joins classmate Trinidad McDonell, who earned Goalkeeper of the Year honors in the 3A Southwest League, as part of the veteran core of the program. McDonell made 74 saves last campaign, and played virtually every minute of the season between the posts for the Panthers.

M-CHS will also see the return of a trio of juniors in the attack, as Evan Lamunyon, Gabe Crowley and Sawyer Smith combined to score six goals during their sophomore season.

On the defensive third of the field, M-CHS will need to find a steady replacement for Hayden Tallmadge, who anchored the middle of the back line for the Panthers. Senior Morgan Larrick played almost every minute as part of that unit, and will help bring cohesiveness to the defense in front of McDonell.

The Panthers aim to continue their upward trajectory as a program, in spite of challenges of drawing larger numbers into the program. The lack of a middle school team, according to McGarigal, factors into the visibility of the high school program, as well as limiting opportunities for incoming players to have familiarity with the game.

M-CHS gets set to open the season on Friday, Aug. 27, with a trip to the Grand Valley, where the Panthers will face a pair of opponents. Grand Junction Central will be the opening day foe, before M-CHS turns around the following day to take on Palisade.

The home opener for M-CHS is slated for Tuesday, Aug. 31, at 4 p.m. against Bloomfield, with a huge home date in league play looming on the schedule, when Alamosa visits on Friday, Sept. 17 at 4 p.m.

Regardless of wins and losses, McGarigal knows that the big-picture development of his athletes is the primary goal of high school athletics. “The goal is to develop young men with integrity,” he said, “and can develop a passion for this sport that they can carry with them the rest of their lives.”