Steamboat Springs For the past two weeks, the members of the Steamboat Speed girls soccer team have listened to head coach Rick Garth preach about defense.
The coach's motivation to improve his squad's defensive presence on the field was the result of losing three straight games at Denver's Nortel Cup in mid-June. It was the first time in the squad's four-year history that it lost three straight games in any tournament and Garth wasn't going to let his players forget about it.
"We played pretty poorly in that tournament," goalkeeper Sarah MacCarthy said. "But we've been working really hard on defense in practice and I think we definitely turned things around last weekend."
The team's showing was just what the head coach was hoping for as the team's hard work did pay off at the Firecracker Classic Soccer Tournament in Salt Lake City. The team advanced to the championship round and finished in second place.
"I was very nervous after the Nortel Cup that we were entering a slump," Garth said. "I was encouraged to see the team bounce back and play at a consistently high level throughout the weekend."
That high level of play landed the Steamboat Speed U13 girls soccer team in the championship round against the Salt Lake City Strikers. The Steamboat team lost in the championship contest 3-2, but Garth was still encouraged by the character his players showed.
"I would have to rate this as this team's most consistent tournament of the season from start to finish," Garth said." We have found that when we play these high-level matches, we tend to make one or two critical errors that the winning teams manage to avoid as soon as we are able to better manage the little things, the team's results against the top teams should improve even further."
The Steamboat team gave up only two goals in the preliminary matches, which helped it earn a berth to the semifinals.
In the semifinal match the local team handed the Gators, of Salt Lake City, a 2-0 loss. Kelly Labor scored both goals while Haley Gallagher and Lindsay Ellis both had assists. The Gators were the No. 3-ranked team in the state of Utah before the tournament started.
The win boosted the Steamboat team to the finals against the Strikers. Goals by Labor and Jessica Peters helped the Steamboat team jump out to a 2-1 lead in the title game. The hometown Strikers, however, came roaring back in the second half to take the lead and secure the win.
Garth credited his defensive players, including MacCarthy, Gallagher, Jamie Jones, Gus Nelson, Peters and Ann Barney, for the success at last weekend's event.
"Everybody just stepped it up on defense, which is what we needed to do," MacCarthy said.
The improvement comes just prior to the team's biggest tournament of the season. The team is currently preparing to leave for Minneapolis for the All American Girls Invitational July 11-16.
"This is the biggest tournament of the year for us," MacCarthy said. "We've been planning it since last fall."
The weeklong event will test the local players against some of the best girls soccer players in the country. MacCarthy said that in addition to the great soccer, the players are looking forward to the chance to visit Minnesota and a few of the local tourist attractions.