Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs High School boys soccer program has built a reputation in the Western Slope Conference that will make them a marked team when the season opens this week.
"Steamboat has a history of strong teams," Glenwood coach Steve McElroy said. "I'm sure Rob (Bohlmann) will have them ready to go again this season."
Glenwood and Battle Mountain are just two of the teams that will challenge the Sailors in league play this season. Rifle, Palisade and even Moffat County will also test the waters in a highly competitive division.
"Our league is always tough," Sailors coach Rob Bohlmann said. "You can't take any team lightly, or they will beat you."
The coaches across the league think the Sailors, Glenwood and Battle Mountain will be the three teams contending for the title this year. However, Palisade and Rifle will also be waiting in the wings for their chance to snag the title.
"We will be competitive against everybody in the league," Rifle coach Tom Taucher said. "In soccer anything can happen."
Besides Steamboat, both Glenwood Springs and Battle Mountain look best primed to make title runs.
Glenwood finished second in the league last season with an 11-5 (7-3) record and will return seven starters to a solid lineup. The team also lost seven seniors, but McElroy said he has a close and talented group of seniors returning. Top players will include seniors Nick Rolph and Jake Taufer.
The Battle Mountain Huskies will also be hoping to make a title run after finishing last season with a 10-5 record. The squad will also have one of the top forwards in the state in Scott Liqouri.
Head coach Ed Cope had 60 players come out for this year's team and will open the season Sept. 1 against Summit County.
Other Western Slope contenders will include Palisade. The Bulldogs have six returning starters and will be led by senior striker James Temple, senior midfielder Ryan Ehlers and senior defender Chris Sargent.
Head coach Sean Kennedy is hoping to finish the season with one of the top two seeds in the league and improve the team's position when the playoffs roll around.
"We have advanced to the playoffs the past several years, but we've never had a good seed," Kennedy said. "It's our goal to improve that seed this year."
Rifle will also be returning with hopes of making the state playoffs. The Bears just missed the playoffs last season after losing the final three games of the year, including the season finale against Palisade.
"We are going to take every team one game at a time," Taucher said. "We learned last year that you can't take any team lightly."
The Bears will be led by eight seniors, including Nick Krick, Louie Savage and Doug Humble.
The final team in the league, Moffat County will be looking to turn a new page when the soccer season opens later this month.
The Bulldogs, who finished dead last in the Western Slope last year, will be under the leadership of new coach Tom St. Louis. The team will be led by a group of veteran players, including Eric Havilla, Brandon Duarte and Danny Gottschall, bent on turning the Moffat County soccer program around.
Most of the teams in the league agree Steamboat will also be contending for a title late this fall. Bohlmann, however, knows the Sailors' success may rest on how his players respond in the first portion of the season.
Sailors star Mike Rinn will be sidelined with a knee injury, and Bohlmann said some other players will have to step up to lead the team offensively.
If that happens, the Sailors will be looking to repeat in the league and set their sights on another state title run.