Lions, Miller enjoying first sanctioned CHSAA season
By Eddie Herz
Reporter-Herald Sports Writer
Deeply burning passion doesn’t always take the obstacles on the road to triumph into account. The limitations associated with climbing from the bottom to the top don’t necessarily inhibit a team if its desire to win stands above all.
Eliminating the initial few years of failure a brand new program usually faces is only achievable if it possesses sincerely dedicated players. Otherwise, growing pains will run their course, and it will take time before attaining success.
Loveland Classical School girls soccer took the typical timetable most young programs are forced to embrace before reaching a competitive level and immediately threw it out the window. The Lions promptly joined CHSAA this season after creating a team only three years ago and won nine consecutive games right out of the gate.
LCS quickly climbed the ranks of CHSAA soccer while avoiding an adjustment period by producing a veteran-led product which is both talented and committed in every way imaginable.
“Every year we have gotten better, so the expectation was to get better,” senior captain Molly Miller said. “Coming back from where we started to where we are now, it’s no surprise to me. It’s really cool, and it is a really beautiful story. Just where we came from, a really small program where most girls didn’t know how to play soccer, to where we are now and how we have gelled as a team.”
Miller, in particular, deserves more credit than anyone for paving the bumps in the road and guiding LCS to a smooth transition into its new league. The senior leads the Lions with 27 goals in her third consecutive season serving as team captain and was recently awarded MaxPreps Player of the Week for an emphatic final few games in March.
The Colorado Christian signee’s ability to dictate games with her speed and powerful striking set an ideal example for other players to follow. But Miller does much more for LCS than pile up goals on the field.
Miller strives to help other players improve and puts her heart into developing the program each day. Miller’s yearning for collective success began when the program started in 2016 and has since rubbed off on the rest of the team. Simply put, she is the pulse and driving force of LCS.
“She made the choice to come help us start a program here and take the beating of losing a lot of games,” head coach Rob McClelland said. “She played with a lot of kids that never played before. She helped build this program. It has really been on her shoulders in a lot of ways. She thinks it is a team thing, but we as coaches know it has been on her shoulders to build the program in a lot of ways.”
While the Lions’ roster features many players who contribute positively on a consistent basis, their chances of winning decrease when Miller isn’t at her best.
Miller scored 42 goals as a junior last season, so being relied on to make a difference is nothing new for her. However, dealing with the pressure to impact every game and always be the best player on the field is a skill she didn’t fully grasp until recently.
In addition to enhancing her ability to create for others, Miller’s maturation into a player who carries less stress has made her final high school season her best.
“I used to feel a lot of pressure my sophomore and junior years,” Miller said. “That is another way I changed. I learned to take it off my shoulders. A lot has changed since last season. And a lot of that pressure is gone. Now I’m just out there to have fun and play my game and help these girls do the best they can.”
Miller and her senior equivalents’ goal before the season was to elevate the status of Loveland Classical soccer. The bar wasn’t set low, nor was failure anticipated given the Lions played well in their previous league.
Considering LCS has shattered its expectations thus far, the new goal is to ride its prosperity all the way to state. Reaching the state championship was once more of a fantasy than anything for the Lions. Now, doing so feels within reach.
“Realistic expectations have changed,” McClelland said. “The girls said they wanted to play in the state finals during their first year in CHSAA. I thought that was a little unrealistic at first and now it’s different. We can play pretty well, so there is a chance. Anyone can win on any given day.”
LCS was recently brought back down to earth after suffering its first loss of the season on Monday, a 9-0 defeat against top-ranked Dawson. Losing late in the season with a perfect regular season record in reach can go two ways for a team in LCS’ position.
The now 9-1 Lions can allow the blowout to deflate their confidence and ruin their magical season altogether. Or, LCS can view the defeat as a monkey it needed to shove off its back so it could turn off cruise control and kick its hunger for a deep playoff run into high gear.
The Lions appear to be choosing the latter of the two approaches.
“We came together mentally in the second half of that loss,” senior Kira Sheppard said. “So, we are going to use that to come out mentally strong next game and moving forward. We are going to focus on not being intimidated now because we can do anything if we just trust each other.”
A bounce-back victory would reassure how LCS’ discombobulated play at Dawson was a rarity and nothing more than a blip on the radar. The Lions’ ability to come together makes doing so a simple request.
Chemistry within the tight-knit group extending beyond the soccer field is why the Lions rarely fall victim to selfishness. LCS’ players care deeply for each other and treat everyone on the team like family.
Instead of wanting to win for personal reasons, the Lions want to succeed for their close friends they call teammates. This sense of obligation to one another is exactly what benefits a team in dire playoff scenarios.
“I love these girls,” Miller said. “We obviously go to a super small school, and they are like my sisters. I’ve known a lot of these girls since I was in fifth grade. We have just grown up through the years, and there is something so special about that…I think anything is possible with these girls and their work ethic, their drive, their passion. We just need to stay focused the rest of the season and just keep doing what we do best, which is work together as a team.”