Steamboat Springs For Steamboat Springs to win the 4A Western Slope Conference this season, the Sailors will need to rely on their bench, not experience.
The Sailors, who were 4-4 in the conference in 1999, are counting on the size they will inherit this season from their sophomore class. That size, coupled with the talent of seniors Brienna Combs, Natalie Muth and Ashley Rogers, could lead Steamboat to its goal.
But in the Sailors' path are the Rifle Bears and the Moffat County Bulldogs, who both come off strong seasons. Rifle and Moffat County battled for the district championship last year, which Rifle ended up winning. The Bears, who were 7-1 and 17-5 last season, have three of the finest players in the league. Bears seniors Lisa Samuelson, Marilyn Samson and Megan Langstaff were a menace to opposing teams in 1999. Samson averaged 11 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Samuelson scored nine points per game and averaged eight rebounds, and Langstaff was the team's leading shot blocker.
Combs, who plays the post, will start again this year and is a player to keep an eye on in the conference.
Combs, who was named to the all-conference first team last year, averaged 13 points per game and 11 rebounds for Steamboat in 1999. Muth returns at point guard, where she averaged nearly 10 points per game in 1999. She, most likely, will start again for the Sailors this season.
Sailors coach Bruce Alston said he was encouraged by his team's shooting so far during practices. Steamboat's season begins Dec. 1, when the team travels to Carbondale to play in the Roaring Fork Tourney.
Alston couldn't pinpoint a weakness for his team, other than the fact that the Sailors are a young squad.
"I think we'll be a very deep team," Alston said. "We'll play a lot of players. Last year, we weren't nearly as deep."
Steamboat has only three seniors on its roster but has nine sophomores who could play varsity at one time or another, Alston said. Four juniors also are vying for varsity time.
Emily Hines, a junior guard, has one of the sweetest jumpers on the team, assistant coach Dave Combs said.
Combs said the Sailors will be quicker than last year. Battling through the league will be tough, he said, but he expects to make a run for a conference title.
"I'd be disappointed if we didn't win the conference," Combs said.
Muth, who was an all-conference honorable mention selection last season, said her team will be a stronger, more experienced group this year.
The Sailors, who were 9-7 overall last season, were defeated by the Bears in last year's district tournament, 61-39. It was a game in which Steamboat had a one-point advantage at halftime.
The Sailors have higher expectations this year.
"We'll be able to run a lot harder this year just because we have the depth," Alston said. "That's real, real encouraging."