Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs' boys basketball team exited last year's district tournament much earlier than they would have liked.
Steamboat, which finished 13-7 overall, was upset by the No. 3 Rifle Bears on the Sailors' home court.
But this year, the Steamboat players say there will be no fluke during postseason play.
The Sailors, who shared the conference title with Delta last season, are gunning for a district championship.
Though the Sailors lost David Marsh, who was the player of the year in 1999, they will have four starters returning to their 2000 squad.
Andrew Johnston, a senior forward, was a first-team all-conference selection who averaged 12.5 points per game in 1999. He was second on the team in scoring average, second in blocked shots and second in field-goal percentage.
Johnston is joined on the starting lineup this year by 1999 all-conference honorable-mention selections Ryan Kiely, Rusty Eck and Danny Weber.
Eck, who plays the center position, is 6-foot-6 tall and weighs 190 pounds.
Weber, who also plays down low, is 6-foot-5, 180 pounds.
Kiely, who runs the point, shot better than 78 percent from the free throw line in 1999. He was second on the team in assists and steals.
Coach Kelly Meek, who has 413 wins vs. 154 defeats in his 26-year career, has high expectations for the 2000-01 season, he said.
As usual, Rifle and Moffat County will be the teams to beat, but Meek says the 4A Western Slope also has promising contenders in Palisade and Glenwood Springs.
Palisade and Battle Mountain are newcomers to the 4A Western Slope Conference. The Huskies competed at the 3A level of the Western Slope league last year. Palisade played in the 4A Southwestern Conference.
Last year, the Bulldogs were ousted in the state playoffs by the eventual 4A state-champion Sierra Stallions 49-28.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Palisade's state playoff team was wiped out to graduation.
Rifle returns all of its starters from last season, including senior guard Brian Beecraft, who scored nearly 22 points per game for the Bears last year.
Moffat County returns Jeff Gaylord and Kevin Voorhees, who are two of the most talented players in the conference.
Steamboat has its work cut out for itself but should be able to make a strong run with its size and experience.
Alex Mackey, who plays the post, is 6-foot-5. Mackey played on the junior varsity team last year.
Johnston, who is 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, is another strong rebounder.
With their size and experience, the Sailors hope to muscle their way to their 10th conference title in the past 12 years.
Roger Walters, who coaches Rifle, said Steamboat is the team to beat in the conference. The Bears, though highly talented, will lack size.
"I think our size is going to hurt us, especially against teams like Steamboat, who are going to be so big," Walters said. "We hope to be able to compete with Steamboat and Craig and Glenwood for the league title."
Meek says the Sailors will be a strong rebounding team on both ends of the floor, which is crucial to their fast break.
"I'm really excited about our kids because I see a lot of leadership," Meek said. "They're very supportive of each other and very unselfish.
"They've been together a lot and worked out together a lot during the offseason. I feel like we're a step ahead of where we would normally be in most years."