The measure of an athletic team is how the team plays, its resolve and the coach’s ability to draw the most out of the players they are surrounded by. Delta High School’s soccer team was a mixed group of talented athletes from the schools in Delta County. Their ability to master a game foreign to many exemplifies their athleticism and an understanding of the game which allowed them to have success.
Delta’s schedule for the 2021 season included a 5-4 double overtime win over Montrose High School to start the season. The Panthers battled through a season that included seven wins, one tie, and one loss overall. The Panthers finished 5-0-1 in the 3A WSL with the only blemish on their record, a 1-1 tie with Basalt on March 25.
Delta played Palisade twice in the regular season, winning 2-1 in the first meeting, and beating the Bulldogs 3-2 in an overtime decision the second time the two teams played. A 4-0 win over Aspen and a 7-1 victory against Moffat County marked the season’s biggest margins of victory for the Panthers.
A disappointing period of time in the middle of the season came when Delta was scheduled to face Coal Ridge and Vail Mountain and those games were postponed, and eventually cancelled, due to a COVID issue. Those games most certainly would have held great bearing on the outcome of a league championship for the Panthers had the games been played. Coal Ridge went on to win the league, without having played its greatest challenge, and entered the state playoffs as a No. 5 seed, while Delta was dumped into the 10th spot. Both teams won their opening round games, Coal Ridge 3-0 over No. 12 Middle Park, and Delta 1-0 over No. 7 Atlas Preparatory School in two overtimes.
Coal Ridge fell in the Elite 8 round, 2-0, to KIPP Denver Collegiate, and the Panthers played to a 2-1 double overtime loss to No. 2 Liberty Common.
Against Atlas Prep on Thursday, April 22, the Panthers had to go two extra periods to settle a 0-0 score after two halves of play against the Gryphons. After playing for more than 90-plus minutes, sophomore Diego Lareau crossed a ball past the corner flag to junior Johnny Gaucin who scored the winning goal in the second overtime period.
Delta played Liberty Common at Fossil Ridge High School for a berth in the Final Four in Frederick. Another superb soccer match treated fans from both schools to an excellent contest that was tied 1-1 after 80 minutes of play had expired. For the second straight game in the 2021 3A state soccer tournament, Delta’s Panthers were in an overtime game that eventually went to a second overtime before a winner could be determined.
Delta head coach Paul Shean was well into the game when he had exuberant thoughts of, “Hey, we could win the whole thing!” The day, and joyous thoughts, vanished near the end of the second overtime when a collision with Delta’s goalie resulted in a loose ball that was tipped in the air with the ball being tipped into the net for the winning goal.
“The boys battled to the end,” noted Shean. The boys gave them all they could handle. It was a battle! We were five minutes away from penalty kicks……”
A little bookwork for the week’s travel and play for the Panthers’ soccer team by Shean produced some interesting numbers for just the playoffs. “In a three-day stretch the Delta Panther soccer team played 200 minutes of grueling soccer and spent 24 hours of that three-day stretch in a bus. Road warriors and battle-tested!”
As for what the 2021 season meant to Shean, “I thought the 2021 season Panthers were tough and resilient. They battled and played better than any team I’ve had in soccer. I felt they left it on the field. All we ever asked for is to “empty the tank,” that is to leave it all out there using every ounce of mental and physical strength. They did. I told them to hold their heads high when we left Fossil Ridge High School after taking on Liberty Common because they earned the respect that they deserved. Not a lot of teams could do what we did in a three-day span (200-plus minutes of soccer and 24 hours traveling in a school bus) and taking the best of the best to the end is all you can ask for.”
Shean was confident at the end of last season when a talented group of players graduated. Many thought the 2021 season would be a rough one where the Panthers would have to rebuild a team that could compete. Shean merely shook his head and said, “What you don’t understand is it’s a reload, not a rebuild.” So it was.
Coach Shean finished the season with a 34-9-2 career record that now includes three Elite 8 performances.