The Steamboat Sailors girls basketball team ended pre-conference play with a respectable 4-2 record before its Christmas break. However, winning now becomes more essential for the Sailors as they start league play Friday against the Palisade Bulldogs.
The game, which will be played at Steamboat, is set to tip off at 6 p.m.
It is the first in a series of 12 league games the Sailors will compete in through Feb. 17. They also have three non-conference games scheduled for the remainder of the season.
Steamboat defeated West Grand, Rangely, Grand Junction and Ralston Valley before the break. But they lost to Glenwood Springs in double overtime at the Roaring Fork Tourney championship and to Conifer in the Steamboat Shoot-Out championship.
"I think we're doing really well," Steamboat's Emily Hines said. "I think we're doing a lot better at this point than we did last year. But, we need to work a lot harder going into league play."
Hines, who is averaging 4.3 points per game, said the Conifer loss was a letdown, but it did not discourage her. The Lobos topped the Sailors, 52-32.
"Losing to Conifer was pretty heartbreaking," Hines said. "We kind of knew they were a good team, so we weren't too disappointed by the loss.
"But I think we could have won it if we would have put our whole hearts into it."
The Sailors did not practice with their coaches during the break because the Colorado High School Activities Association does not allow high schools to hold organized practices during most of the holiday period.
But the players took it upon themselves to go to open gyms to fine-tune their shooting, Hines said.
Hines and her teammates say their shooting must improve if they want to contend for a league championship.
The Sailors couldn't buy a bucket against the Lobos.
Brienna Combs, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding, said the Sailors have done well shooting at practices. However, Combs said, the team has not been on target in recent games.
"It seems like every year we start getting better through the year," Combs said. "During the game, it's different (than in practice) when you shoot because your adrenaline's rushing, you're tired. It's totally different.
"We're just going to have to play some games and get to where we are comfortable so we become better shooting during the game."
The Bulldogs, who are led by Erica Bullock and Serena Goering, are 3-4 this season.
They are 1-0 in the conference with a win over the Delta Panthers, 70-48. Palisade has non-conference wins over Evergreen and Rampart. Grand Junction Central defeated Palisade, 61-37.
Combs said the early part of the season was a good learning experience for the Sailors. Against Grand Junction, Steamboat battled back from a nine-point halftime deficit to score a close victory.
"Hopefully, we get in better shape and just learn from these non-league games in order to learn what we need to do to make it," Combs said.
"I think this break was good for us. I'm ready to go in there now and show everybody what we can do."
Steamboat travels to Avon to play Battle Mountain Saturday at 6 p.m.