Steamboat Springs The hardwood floors of the Ramunno Gymnasium at Steamboat Springs High School will never play host to a girls state championship soccer game, but for the members of the Sailors girls' team, this is where state dreams are born.
On Wednesday afternoon, the hollow sounds of soccer balls bouncing off of the walls could be heard resounding throughout the hallways, as about 25 members of the soccer team worked on shooting, ball-handling and conditioning drills.
Those who were not in the hallways were inside the gym, firing shots against the wall in preparation for the new season.
The players included varsity and junior varsity team members.
"It's just crazy when we have only one gym and we have 50 girls," said Jill Wernig, a senior varsity soccer team member.
"It's really hard to focus when we have that much going on at one time."
The Sailors generally practice in the new and the old gymnasiums, but Wednesday was a peculiar day because the boys basketball team was about to take part in a home regional playoff game.
Though it may seem extreme at some high schools to begin a state-title run on a basketball court, or in a hallway for that matter, this is how the Sailors normally start their season every year.
They do not have the ability to practice outdoors because of the climate, though that has not kept the team from eventually finding success on the field.
In 1998, Steamboat Springs won the Class 3A state championship and went on to compete in the Class 4A semifinals in 1999.
Last season, the team made it to the first round of the playoffs, where it was upset by Montrose, 1-0.
Wernig says practicing indoors gives her team an advantage, despite the chaos that often takes place in the confined areas.
"Sometimes, it just gets like hockey in there," Wernig said. "But everyone pushes themselves so hard.
"You're just always moving," she said. "I think we actually get a better workout."
The Sailors' workouts have been going well during the preseason, coach Jim Dudley says, and he expects the Sailors to have an excellent shot at making the Final Four.
But the players will quickly tell you that they are shooting for a higher goal, which is capturing another state title. With 46 players in the program, they certainly appear to have the ammo to do so.
There are seven seniors on this year's team, including Bernadette Norman who was sidelined last season after she suffered an ACL injury during the Sailors' opening game at Littleton.
Norman, like her teammates, say there have been many positives thus far during the preseason.
"Our team is really looking good so far and we're working really well together," Norman said. "A lot of people worked really hard during the off season, too."
Dudley says the biggest turnaround from last season is that his players are practicing more like a team, rather than as a group of individuals.
Playing like a team, Dudley says, is the key to accomplishing high goals this season.
"We decided as a team this year that this is not a team of individuals," Dudley said. "They're really improving together."
Dudley says Steamboat will face its toughest challenges this year against Rifle and Battle Mountain.
Steamboat, which went 9-5-1 in 2000, plays its first game against Fruita Monument at a tournament in Littleton March 16.
The team scrimmages Douglas County at Castle Rock at 10 a.m. March 10.
"We have a really, really strong team this year," Wernig said. "Our goal is to go all the way."