Ralston Valley keeper Evan Bierman put the team on his back at times during last season’s postseason run.

He marveled while robbing top-ranked Legacy and 45-career goal scorer Cooper Stephens in the quarterfinals. It was then a star-studded show in net between him and Fairview’s Shane Williams in the semifinal.

Eventually, the Mustangs were KO’d by a walk-off PK as the Knights went on to face Denver East for the Class 5A title.

On paper in 2023, the Mustangs again look like a contender with the return of Bierman and their top three goal scorers from last season. It just doesn’t reflect in the preseason rankings released by the Colorado High School Activities Association, where they were left outside the top 10.

So 2023 … dark horses?

In this week’s look at the sport, let’s dive into a couple possible contenders in each classification that appear under the radar.

Class 5A

Ralston Valley: The Mustangs are 2-0-1 this fall — a win over last year’s 5A No. 9 team, Monarch, and a draw over 2022 No. 4 Broomfield, among it.

Last year, Bierman finished with 138 stops, and he has 12 in three games this fall. Cooper Hineline, after having 12 goals, already has a pair.

Later on Tuesday, the Mustangs are at Golden.

Heritage: The Eagles, ranked ninth in the CHSAA preseason poll, return some nice pieces from a 2022 squad that lost in the second round of the postseason to eventual-champ Denver East.

Liam Gilbert had a team-leading 11 goals last fall and returns alongside three other 2022 multi-goal scorers. Keeper Owen McCague is back, too, after he recorded 64 saves, helping the Eagles allow just over a goal per game.

Heritage beat Denver South behind Justin Dirmish’s Aug. 17 winner. It tied Arapahoe as McCague had six stops in his 40 minutes in net. It’s at Doherty today.


Class 4A

Skyline: The Falcons, unranked in the preseason poll, bring back goalie Jacob Rodriguez and their top scoring duo in Brian Heredia and Angel Pereyra.

All three of them led the 2022 team to the second round of the playoffs before falling to champ Northfield.

After combining for 23 goals and nine assists last year, Heredia and Pereyra each had multiple points in a 6-1 win over Standley Lake a week ago. Skyline then lost by a goal at Lewis-Palmer Saturday.

The Falcons are at Windsor later Tuesday.

Centaurus: Keeper Garrett Pugh is receiving interest at the next level as he leads a team that won its league and was ranked fourth in the postseason a year ago.

Brandon Fellows-Mason was the team’s goals leader then, and he already has three goals and three helpers as part of a 2-0 start.

The Warriors host L-P today.


Class 3A

Kent Denver: The Sun Devils were ranked 10th in the preseason polls. But history says hit the “over” on this program being ranked better than that by playoff time.

Winning five titles from 2012-2019, Kent Denver has some nice returning pieces from last year’s second-round postseason exit. It includes its top points-getters in Jacob Lahlou (18 goals, six assists in 2022) and Ryan Hughes (eight, seven), as well as senior keeper Rex Collins, who had 59 saves to 10-goals allowed.

Kent Denver, sitting 2-0-1, is at Peak to Peak today.

Rocky Mountain Prep SMART: The Ocelots return five of their six multi-goal scorers from 2022, when they outscored teams by a 3-1 margin, falling in the second round of the playoffs.

Leading scorer Isaac Montelongo is back after having 17 goals and nine assists last year.

In a 6-2 win over DSST: Montview a week ago, Jesus Maravilla (six goals, six assists in 2022) had two goals and Montelongo had one.

They’re at Manual Wednesday.


Class 2A

Dawson: The Mustangs open the season at Nederland Tuesday after finishing 9-7 a year ago.

On paper, the team looks like it’s edging closer to the quality it had just a couple years ago. It reached the finals in 2019, then semifinals in the year afterward.

Four of its five 2022 goal scorers return, led by Charlie Martin, who had 15 to go along with seven assists.

Caprock Academy: The Eagles had four wins a year ago — up from just two the season prior. Two weeks into 2023, they’re 3-0.

Zayne Polson was second on the team with nine goals and six assists in 2022. He has 10 and five this season. Edrick Ang had 12 goals last year and already has nine.

In wins against STEM School Highlands Ranch, Twin Peaks and Moffat County, they’ve outscored teams 22-4. They’re at 2019 champ Ridgway Thursday.