Only 46,000 people reside in Littleton, Colorado, a small suburb nestled about 10 miles south of Denver, but two of them just so happen to play for the Arizona soccer team.
And start. And patrol the midfield.
That duo? Junior Kelcey Cavarra and sophomore Amanda Porter, the pride of Columbine High School. (Yes, that Columbine High School.)
“We know each other pretty well at this point,” Porter joked.
The two first met in 2014, when Porter started her freshman year at Columbine. Cavarra was beginning her sophomore year.
They hit it off immediately. That same season they led the Rebels to their first state championship, beating Ralston Valley 3-1 at the Colorado Rapids’ stadium in Denver.
Cavarra nutmegged the goalkeeper on a long free kick to tie the game — “don’t know how,” she quipped — and Porter scored the game-winner three minutes later, beating several defenders before netting a shot from a tough angle.
“It was super fun,” Cavarra recalled. “I remember distinctively our coach told me, her and another girl (Tatum Barton) that if we all scored in the state final, we’d win and we did.”
Arizona assistant Paul Nagy remembers that day fondly, too. He was in attendance because he promised Porter and Cavarra that he would fly out to support them if they led Columbine to the championship game.
And Nagy kept his word, even though the game was pushed back a day after a violent hailstorm whipped through the area.
“It snowed in May,” Nagy laughed, “but it was cool to watch the future of our program be able to have a great moment in their lives and careers.”
It was fun to see him there, Cavarra said.
“My family finally met him,” she explained. Plus, “he got good looks at Amanda.”
Cavarra was already committed to Arizona at the time, but Porter was still going through the recruiting process, garnering interest from nearby schools like Colorado and Denver.
But Porter wanted to leave the state, and she liked the UA campus and energy of the coaching staff when she visited, so the Wildcats had that in their favor.
They also had a not-so-secret weapon in Cavarra, who recruited Porter profusely. When they bumped into each other in the hallways at Columbine, Cavarra would urge Porter to commit to Arizona.
And once, at a CU-Arizona match in Boulder, Cavarra posted a picture with Porter on social media with the caption: “Future Wildcats.”
It caused a stir in their tight-knit community.
“Everyone was like, ‘did Amanda commit?’” Cavarra laughed. “I was like ‘no not yet.’”
But Porter did eventually, as Cavarra’s persistence paid off. Her selling point?
“(That) she was there,” Porter chuckled. “She helped me get a grasp of what the school is like, what the coaches are like, and helped inform my decision more. And that helped because I knew someone who was going here already.”
Cavarra was “stoked” when Porter committed because she knew what the Wildcats were getting. Like Cavarra, Porter was an all-conference player all four years at Columbine. Both had successful club careers with Real Colorado, too.
“I’ve known Amanda for a long time now and I know how she plays, and what an asset she is,” Cavarra said.
Now at Arizona, they have picked up right where they left off at Columbine. Cavarra, a defensive midfielder, is entering her second full season as a starter, embodying the grit that Arizona prides itself on.
Porter is an exceptionally skilled midfielder, currently leading Arizona with five assists. She takes corner kicks and facilitates on the left side of the field.
“Kelcey is a pure winner,” said UA head coach Tony Amato. “Fit, works hard, covers ground, does some of the dirty work that doesn’t show up in terms of back-pressing, heading, tackling and then playing simple passes out. Her role is pretty clear on our team.
“Porter is just in her second year here, but she’s a dynamic attacking player.”
Unsurprisingly, they work well together.
“They know exactly where each other is going to be before they pass the ball, before they head the ball,” said UA forward Jill Aguilera. “So I think their relationship, since it’s been so long that they’ve known each other, is a quick connect between them. That’s pretty cool.”
The Columbine products have helped Arizona become one of the best teams in the Pac-12 the last two years.
In 2017, the Wildcats won a program-record seven conference games, finishing fourth in the ultra-competitive Pac-12. And so far in 2018, they are 8-2, off to one of the best starts in school history.
“I think knowing your players is one of the most important things in soccer,” Cavarra said. “So I think that’s huge that we already came in and had a three-year background with each other.”
So all those recruiting trips to Littleton? Well worth it.
“They’re both different because they play different roles, but both have been great in their own right,” Nagy said. “They’ve both come into this season and taken a step forward in how much they contribute to our program and how much they are leaders in the program. It’s pretty cool to see both go from playing for Columbine High School to now being here and helping us with our program.”
Just like old times — sort of
Tatum Barton, who scored the third goal in Columbine’s title victory in 2014, will take the field with Cavarra and Porter once again Sunday in Tucson.
Only, Barton will be wearing different colors. She plays for Colorado.
“It sucks. I’ve played against her for two years now and that’s the first time we’ve ever played against each other since we were 6,” Cavarra said. “It will be hard. I just told her not to score against us.”
No promises. Barton is the Pac-12’s leading scorer, notching 11 goals this season.
“She’s a stud,” Cavarra said.
“She’s just an overall good athlete,” Porter added. “She’s big and strong and has some pace up there. She can do pretty much anything and then she can finish. So it’s going to be a challenge defending her.”
It might even bring back some old memories.
“It’s going to be different, but it’s going to be a fun moment just to all be playing on the same field again,” Porter said. “But obviously me and Kelcey will try to win.”
What’s it like to go to Columbine?
When people find out Cavarra and Porter went to Columbine, the questions start pouring in.
“Is it scary? Were you scared to go there?” they ask, per Porter. “Always when I tell people I went there, their first response is, ‘oh, seriously?’”
After all, in April 1999 two gunmen opened fire at the school, killing 12 students and a teacher. It was the deadliest school shooting in US history until February 2018 when 17 people were shot dead at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
“But like I say every time, I have zero regrets. I love that school,” Cavarra said. “It’s awesome. The community, the teachers, everyone is so much a part of it and that’s what the coolest part is — everything was centered around Columbine.”