Spring 'Four'cast: Storylines to watch with soccer and swimming

Mar. 26—Soccer has been king — or, rather, queen — in Boulder County and its surrounding areas over the past few years. A strong club culture in the northern suburbs of Denver are to thank for that. Will any girls teams be able to go all the way this year?

Boys swimming, on the other hand, has been slowly rising to compete with the masterful Denver-area schools like Regis Jesuit. Who will make the strongest push toward the podium this year?

Throughout this season, when the weather disrupts live coverage, we will focus on a different spring sport, diving into some of the most interesting storylines and unanswered questions about the programs around Boulder, Broomfield and Longmont.

Question one: Can Jefferson Academy girls soccer earn a repeat state title this year?

Last year, Jefferson Academy girls soccer rose to the top of the Class 3A pecking order when it won the state championship with a 3-0 victory over Manitou Springs, having a tough schedule in the 3A/2A Metro League to thank for that.

While the Jaguars graduated top scorers in Colorado Gatorade Player of the Year Kate Runyon and AllieJo Kirkpatrick, their most prolific scorer — Gianna Gagliano — returns to the pitch with 32 goals from her junior campaign. The Jags emphatically began their season right where the last one left off, smacking Middle Park with a 10-0 shutout at the beginning of the month.

Still, if they hope to head back to Dick's Sporting Goods Park this year, they'll need to find ladies who can step up to fill the holes that Runyon, Kirkpatrick and keeper Helen Stegner left.

Question two: Who else can vie for girls soccer gold?

In 2A, Dawson girls soccer met a shocking early exit last year when it lost in the second round of the state playoffs, but the Mustangs return their top weapons with junior Kanoe Bihag and senior Lauren Muniz, who combined for 61 goals last year. The Mustangs have netted 17 goals in their first two games of the season.

Prospect Ridge Academy (3A) similarly lost in the quarterfinals of its bracket but return senior forward Madison Skinner (17 goals) and junior keeper Ava Stockard (55 saves) to the lineup, albeit with a different coach to helm the team.

Mead (4A) fell to top-seeded Lutheran in the semis by a mere goal but look exceptionally dangerous with the return of junior Katy Adler (16 goals), sophomore Madelyn Wright (11 goals) and senior Averi Williams (10 goals), all of whom rounded out the top of the Mavericks' scoring corps last year.

Broomfield and Fairview (5A), naturally, will join the list of potential contenders as well. Broomfield, which was upset in the quarterfinals last year, lost two strong scorers but welcome back senior Charlotte Hansen (11 goals) and junior Victoria Choren (eight goals).

Fairview made it all the way to the semis as a 14 seed, but the Knights will need to find someone (or a few someones) to make up for the gaping hole that Claire Silverman left in her wake. Silverman, who ended the season with 19 goals, was a monster in the playoffs.

Question three: Can Monarch boys swimming force its way into the top 3 at the 5A state meet?

For the past few years, the 5A schools in and around Denver have dominated the state swimming scene. Regis Jesuit won the meet last year with 399 points, with Cherry Creek ringing in at second with 388.5.

Monarch, however, wasn't too far behind. The Coyotes placed fourth with a score of 216, with a crew of strong swimmers to thank. Gavin Keogh, now a junior, led the pack with top-10 finishes in the 200-yard IM (fifth, 1 minute, 52.72 seconds), the 200 freestyle relay (second, 1:23.94), the 100 backstroke (second, 48.98 seconds) and the 400 free relay (first, 3:04.90).

Then-sophomore Ethan DiFronzo likewise competed in the two top relays, placing ninth in the 50 free (21.34) and the 100 free (46.11). With DiFronzo already beating his state time in the 50 free (now a 21.27) and the 200 free relay nearing its state time last year (1:25.80) with a slightly different cast, it seems the Coyotes have a lot to smile about.

Question four: What will Silver Creek swimming be able to accomplish in 4A?

"Safety in numbers" has made Silver Creek swimming a solid threat to win a state title the past couple of seasons.

Two years ago, the Raptors won the team championship not by strong finishes in the individual events but by points collected by a large number of state qualifiers. Last year, they nearly pulled off the feat again before falling to second behind Cheyenne Mountain, which edged them out by just 33 points.

As it stood on Tuesday afternoon, junior James Story enjoyed the third-best time in 4A in the 50 free (22.28 seconds) and the fifth-best time in the 100 free (49.44) to lead a roster of 42 swimmers and divers.