Steamboat Springs All season long, Glenwood Springs kept tabs on the soccer happenings in Steamboat Springs and vice versa. As the weeks passed, the two separated themselves from the pack and set up the expected a season-finale match for the league title.
But for some, the unexpected happened when the Demons left Dudley Field with a 3-2 win and sole possession of the Western Slope crown on Tuesday.
"For years it's been Steamboat and Glenwood," Demons coach Steve White said. "We knew it would be interesting to see the two best teams determine the league title."
Caught flat-footed at the outset of the game, Steamboat found itself down quickly following Cassie Carlson's free-kick goal at about the 5:00-mark. Sailors goalie Kelly Asbury had her hands on the ball, but it appeared to take a weird spin off her gloves on the rebound and slipped over her head into the net.
Following the game, an ecstatic White said his team fell victim to a similar thing in its tie with Rifle earlier in the season.
"Those breaks happen," he said. "But that's why we keep playing."
The Sailors responded quickly, netting their own unexpected goal roughly five minutes later. Wedged into the right corner of the field, Steamboat's Anya Allen said she meant to deliver a centering pass toward the back post and a cutting Lia Utu. Her pass missed the intended mark as it zipped into the side of the net opposite Allen for the score.
The Demons, however, continued their aggressive attack and moved back into the lead several minutes later when Ashley Holtum got behind the defense and scored her team's second goal.
The Sailors, plagued by sketchy passing and poor ball control, couldn't establish a solid attack for the remaining 28 minutes and trailed 2-1 at the half. They never regained the lead.
"We played sloppy, unmethodical soccer in the first half," Steamboat coach Rob Bohlmann said. "Not to take anything away from their play, but we made them look good. We were playing hard, but not playing smart mentally."
At the half, Bohlmann said he delivered a brief message keep it simple.
It appeared to take hold. The Sailors passed much better and assembled a more organized attack in the final 40 minutes, but the Demons were unwilling to surrender the lead and the league title. The tough breaks continued for the Sailors, who had several shots miss just wide or hit the crossbars.
Meanwhile, Glenwood Springs added an insurance goal nearly 12 minutes in when Chelsea Strautman drilled her free kick over the head of a fully extended Asbury.
It proved essential because Nikki Garth pulled the Sailors to within one on a penalty kick with less than 10 minutes remaining.
That goal sparked a flurry of action for the Sailors offensively, but the Demons were able to hang on for the win.
"I knew we had to play defense for the final 10 minutes," White said. "We kept switching our forwards to keep their legs fresh so we had some offense, but the keys to the game were possessions and defense."
Following the game, both Allen and defender Lisl Pearson said nerves might have played into the sluggish start, but that didn't account for the loss.
"It just wasn't on," Allen said. "We weren't playing simple."
The Sailors will have to put the disappointing loss in the back of their minds quickly. The return of senior Julie Wernig should help. She was forced to sit out Tuesday's game after she received her third yellow card of the season against Palisade April 27.
Bohlmann said it was his understanding the Sailors will host an opening-round playoff game this week against Legacy the No. 2 team from the SkyLine League.