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Rams soccer ends season just short of mountaintop

The+Colorado+State+University+soccer+team+huddles+together+before+the+game+against+the+United+States+Air+Force+Academy+Oct.+15.
Collegian | Paige Molenkamp
The Colorado State University soccer team huddles together before the game against the United States Air Force Academy Oct. 15.

Just inches from going in.

Colorado State soccer got a look as the ball sailed over the head of Utah State‘s goalkeeper Diera Walton in the 83rd minute, but Walton saved it by a fingernail, putting the nail in the coffin that was the hope of a comeback for the Rams.

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The Rams lost to Utah State in the Mountain West championship game 1-0. A 78th-minute goal by USU’s Kate Christian made the difference in the game.

Despite the unfortunate end to the season for the Rams, there were still some players recognized on the all-tournament team. 

For CSU, this included goalkeeper Shayna Ross, midfielder Mia Casey and forward Liv Stutzman. Ross allowed only one goal all tournament — the breakaway goal by USU’s Whitney Lopez — and while Casey didn’t officially score a goal in the tournament, she was crucial in CSU’s win over San Diego State, hitting the first penalty kick. Stutzman scored the Rams’ first goal of the tournament against Fresno State, starting their journey to the championship.

While the Rams’ hopes were thwarted this year, they have a young roster, including the MW Newcomer of the Year Olivia Fout, who led the conference in goals. 

Along with many others, returning to the team will be Sofia Coulombe and Casey, two first-year players who have made a big difference this year and will continue to get better. For Casey, watching the Aggies raise the championship trophy made her just that much hungrier. Casey said watching USU celebrate made her starving.

“I want that right there, holding up that trophy, celebrating with the team, the hats — as little as it is, I want that hat,” Casey said. “And I think that everyone on this team who is going to be here next year is going to play with a chip on their shoulder. Every practice, every training, every time you wake up to go out, this moment right here is what’s going to build us next year.”

While the Rams couldn’t get the win in their historic 2023 season, they’re young. No doubt, the experience  they’ve obtained during their run to the finals will go a long ways for them as they look to get back to this spot next season. 

After the match, the Rams huddled around each other on the field. Coach Keeley Hagen has been a big part of the Rams’ success this season. 

Taking over the team in June 2021, Hagen has made and will continue to make history with her team. 

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“This is a special group,” Hagen said. “We’ve done some historical things this season, and honestly, it’s a really special team. And (I) just told our seniors, they’re the ones that set the bar. and so the expectation is to be here and win — not only the tournament but the regular season. So whenever you have these moments, this is the last that we’re going to be together the way that we were. So I just wanted to give the seniors and people an opportunity to talk about what the team meant to each other. And (I’m) just so proud of the culture that they’ve created and the ownership they took, and as a result, we were able to get here because of the things that they started doing and committed to since January.”

Hale Otto is apart of the group that will not return next season for the Rams. 

Otto has played two seasons in a Rams uniform, donning the yellow captain’s armband this season. Otto has exemplified leadership to her team as a graduate player this season. 

Fout was injured in the 62nd minute of the match and attempted to come back in. Otto went over and talked to her. Otto was also seen after the match talking to the players that will be returning next season for the Rams, giving them words of encouragement. 

“My message was just work hard and play for each other,” Otto said. “I came here hoping to impact them and lead, just because they do call me grandma. I’m the oldest on the team by some five years, and so my message was just, ‘Play for each other, and don’t take anything for granted. We’re so blessed to be here and to have this opportunity to play for a championship, and (that’s) something that we’ve never done before at Colorado State, and now it’s the standard for us. So just keep your eyes ahead, and work for that championship every day.’”

Getting a nickname like “grandma” certainly indicates a lasting impact on the team, especially first-year teammates. 

While Otto recognizes that, she also recognizes how big of an impact those players have made on her. 

“Oh my gosh, they have changed my life on and off the field,” Otto said. “I feel like I can go to them for anything. They’ve helped me become a better player but most importantly a better person through this process. And (they’ve) helped me find my voice and find the courage to just lead a group of people, and they lead me every day and give me advice every day, and I wouldn’t be where I am without them.”

The Rams were picked to finish seventh in the Mountain West in the preseason poll. They used that as motivation to get to the finals this year. Now that they know what they’re capable of, the chip on their shoulders has grown after the loss. 

“Well, the loss obviously really sucks,” Casey said. “No one wants to lose, but it’s definitely something to build from. We weren’t supposed to be here, so second place isn’t too bad, but winning is obviously the goal. But there’s next year and the year after that and the year after that. I think we definitely set a new standard for the program this year, and we just need to keep building off of that.”

Reach Damon Cook at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @dwcook2001.

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Damon Cook
Damon Cook, Sports Editor
Damon Cook is the 2023-24 sports editor for the The Collegian and has been at the paper since August 2022. He started doing coverage on volleyball and club sports before moving onto the women's basketball beat. He is in his third year and is completing his degree with a major in journalism and media communication and a minor in sports management. As The Collegian's sports editor, Cook reports on CSU sports and helps manage the sports desk and content throughout the week. After having a year to learn and improve, Cook will now get to be part of a new age under the sports desk. The desk moved on from all but one other person and will now enter into a new era. Damon started school as a construction management major looking to go in a completely different direction than journalism. After taking the year off during the COVID-19 pandemic, he quickly realized that construction wasn't for him. With sports and writing as passions, he finally decided to chase his dreams, with The Collegian helping him achieve that. He is most excited to bring the best and most in-depth sports coverage that The Collegian can provide.

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