Steamboat Springs Sailing through the season with a 16-0 record, Steamboat Springs throws its anchor down tonight, unloading in Rifle for a game that has historical implications.
The undefeated boys basketball team has its eyes set on winning the division crown, which it would do this evening with a victory over Rifle.
But perhaps even more significantly, the 2000-2001 Steamboat squad would become the first in school history to start the year at 17-0 if it can pull off the win.
Senior forward Andrew Johnston, like the rest of the Steamboat team, is quick to downplay the historical relevance of the game. But Johnston says that if his team does accomplish that feat, it would be a great achievement.
"I don't think anyone knew about that, but I guess it would be something special if we could have the all-time best record in Steamboat," Johnston said.
He added the Sailors were not putting too much emphasis on winning the league title but rather on just compiling another victory.
"We haven't really thought about it," Johnston said. "We've been doing so good, and have been so far ahead, I guess we thought we had it locked up.
"We realize right now that the most important thing is getting ready for districts and regionals."
Rifle, which was 6-3 entering Thursday night's contest against Glenwood Springs, is in second place in the league.
The Sailors are the No. 1 team in the 4A Western Slope Conference with a 9-0 record. They are ranked No. 2 in the state 4A class by the Rocky Mountain News.
The Broomfield Eagles are ranked No. 1.
If the Sailors topple the Bears, they will stand alone in the Steamboat Springs High School history books. Currently, they are the first team since the 1981-82 Steamboat Sailors to start the season 16-0.
"I know those things are kind of exciting, but we have not talked about it yet amongst ourselves," said Sailors coach Kelly Meek. "We're just focusing on improving every day."
Two other intriguing aspects surround tonight's matchup.
For one, three Bears are sitting out the last game of a three-game suspension for violating team rules. One of those players happens to be a starter.
Second, if the Sailors break the school record for consecutive wins, they will do it against the team that last beat Steamboat.
Rifle eliminated Steamboat from the 2000 district tournament, which marks the last time the boys basketball program experienced a loss.
Four starters are back from that 2000 team, including Johnston, who is the leading scorer at 13.2 points per game. Johnston also averages a team-best 7.3 rebounds per game. He has terrorized the boards and the hoop and has been the major driving force behind the Sailors' offensive attack.
Ryan Kiely also has done his share of scoring, pouring in 10.2 points per game. Kiely averages a team-high 4.5 assists.
Rusty Eck enters the game with an average of 6.9 rebounds.
The Sailors have displayed a balanced offensive attack this season and are averaging 57.8 points per game.
That average, however, is bound to drop if the Bears go back to their stall game, which they used against the Sailors Jan. 12.
Rifle stalled for about six minutes in the second half alone during that game. The result: a low-scoring 34-20 Sailors win.
Meek said the Sailors have worked on two defenses this week that are designed to combat the Bears' delay game. They have practiced their trap defense and contain defense.
One of the key matchups tonight, Meek said, will be Eck against Steven Winschell, a junior center who weighs 250 pounds.
"I think there's a real good chance they're going to try to utilize Winschell," Meek said. "We're expecting them to try to get him to do a lot of back picks."
Meek said the Sailors had a good week of practice and the spirits have been high in the locker room.
The Sailors take the court at 7:30 p.m. for the opening tip.