Fort Lewis gorilla won't let Lions go

By Doug Fitzgerald published November 7, 2003

Thatâ€TMs not a monkey clinging to the back of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs soccer program - itâ€TMs a gorilla.

The Mountain Lions lost 2-0 to Fort Lewis Friday at Golden, Colo., in the first round of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference quarterfinals, marking the sixth time in the past seven seasons that CU-Colorado Springs ended its season with a loss to the Fort Lewis Skyhawks. Five of those losses came in playoff games. The sixth, in 2002, prevented the Mountain Lions from qualifying for postseason play.

Call Jane Goodall. This is one Silverback thatâ€TMs not an endangered species.

Ironically, the Mountain Lions spent much of the 2003 season dispelling old jinxes. New coach Flavio Mazzetti made what had been a rowdy bunch into solid citizens. CU-Colorado Springs overcame an 0-3 start by winning 10 of its next 13 matches and achieving a No. 7 regional ranking. The Mountain Lions even ended a four-year losing streak to Colorado School of Mines.

And except for a three-minute stretch in the second half, it looked as if even the Fort Lewis monkey might give up its perch.

The Mountain Lions came out hard and controlled the pace of the game in the early going. Senior forward Jared Blackney worked his way into a one-on-one situation with Fort Lewis goalkeeper Nick Clark in the opening seconds before being pulled down from behind. There was no penalty kick awarded.

In the 23rd minute, Clarkâ€TMs fingertip save on a Martin Kristiseter header again denied CU-Colorado Springs the lead.

“We came out hard,” said Kristiseter. “We really thought we were going to beat them today, especially after the first 20 minutes.”

After a scoreless first half, a strange goal put Fort Lewis in the lead. It also brought back painful memories to CU-Colorado Springs alumni like Fred Brown, Mike Archuleta and Courtney Miller, all of whom were in the stands and all of whom have previously fallen victim to the Fort Lewis jinx.

In the 52nd minute, John Cunliffe chipped a floater from an improbable angle that looked more like a pass than a shot. The ball sailed over CU-Colorado Springs goalkeeper Matt Mitchell, who was playing at the near post, then, as if guided by the ghosts of frustrations past, suddenly discovered gravity and nestled into the net.

“The first goal, it was a serve,” said Kristiseter, using a soccer euphemism for a pass.

The second goal was more conventional. Cunliffe took advantage of a still-stunned CU-Colorado Springs defense and made another run down the right side. This time he delivered a perfect crossing pass that Sean Flanigan hammered home without breaking stride.

In a span of three minutes and two seconds, the Mountain Lionsâ€TM season was hanging by a thread against a team that protects a lead better than any other in the RMAC.

“They tuck it in and the kick it away. And they work hard,” said Kristiseter of the Skyhawks defensive prowess. “(Fort Lewis) beat us three times. Theyâ€TMre a better team, thatâ€TMs all there is to it.”

As CU-Colorado Springs pressed the attack against the compacted Skyhawk defense, the game became increasingly physical. Referee Casey Dout whistled 38 fouls and issued seven yellow cards. As the seconds ticked away, CU-Colorado Springs seniors Kristiseter, Blackney, Ryan Slaughter and Justin Miller began to come to terms with the end of their soccer careers.

Slaughter, who enrolled in graduate school in order to play in his final year of eligibility, sees a bright future for the team.

“I donâ€TMt see it going anywhere but up,” said Slaughter. “ Thatâ€TMs why I wanted to be a part of it this year, because I knew it was going to be something positive - something that was going to be like the birth of a legacy.”

Blackney declined to talk after the game. When a player shows as much heart as he does, itâ€TMs particularly tough when that heart breaks.

“It was a good run,” said Miller. “Of course, youâ€TMd always like to go out winning a championship but it doesnâ€TMt always happen like that. This has been probably one of the best experiences of my life. I love all the guys here. Iâ€TMm thankful. Too bad we never won a championship, but we made a lot of friendships. Thatâ€TMs really what counts.”

And even a gorilla canâ€TMt take that away.

UCCS Players/Staff Featured

Jared BlackneyJared Blackney11FJr.
Jared BlackneyJared Blackney11FSr.
Justin MillerJustin MillerForwardSenior
Justin MillerJustin Miller5DSr.
Ryan SlaughterRyan Slaughter7FSr.
Martin KristiseterMartin Kristiseter20MF/FJr.
Martin KristiseterMartin Kristiseter10MF/FSr.
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