Steamboat Springs As the girls' lacrosse team ran shuttles passing the ball from stick to stick in practice Thursday afternoon, Lauren Baumann was encouraging her teammates to go faster and pass harder.
As the only senior on this year's team, Baumann leads the team in experience. She also leads the Sailors in scoring and as a team captain.
"I think we really have a chance to take second or third in the league," Baumann said. "We're looking really strong right now, which is really great because we usually pick up toward the middle of the season."
Baumann returns as the Sailors' leading attacker. She scored more than 40 goals during last year's 3-4 season.
The senior is one of eight starters returning to a team that finished fourth in the Foothills Conference and qualified for the state playoffs. The Sailors might have lost eight seniors, but only four were starters.
"Although we lost a lot of players, I feel confident," said Avery Swoyer, the team's other captain who plays defender. "I think we are going pretty far this year. We have a great team put together."
The midfield took the hardest hit as graduation saw the loss of sisters, Tracey and Sharon Norman, both voted most valuable players during their careers at Steamboat.
"We'll miss their leadership," Sailors coach Chris Polumbus said. "Those two were stand-outs."
With the graduation of Mehana Campbell, Kelly Escobar, Carly Swoyer and Bethany Grahman, the defensive end needs to be replenished. The Sailors will also have the hole of goalie Carlie Adamo to fill. Adamo, a junior, is studying aboard in Spain for the semester.
A leading candidate to replace Adamo is sophomore Karissa Fisher.
"Baumann is our top shooter on the team (and) our offense is strong," Polumbus said. "The defense is a little weaker. (The girls) will have to step up their play. Karissa will have her hands full."
Polumbus is also expecting strong play out of sophomores Shelly Dunlop, an athletic midfielder, and Brittney Innes, a midfielder who improved over the summer at camp.
However, it is the freshmen who make up the largest class contingent for the Sailors, accounting for seven of the 19 players.
With three consecutive state appearances under its belt, Steamboat is looking to achieve another top-four finish in the six-team Foothills league. Although Wheat Ridge, which is a perennial powerhouse, remains in the league, Boulder, which is another top contender, has left.
Along with the Sailors' goal of placing higher in the league, Polumbus said she would like to see her team win games against its traditionally closest competitors, Golden and Columbine.
"I expect to qualify for state," Polumbus said. "We're still strong in the conference. It's always very close when we play against Golden. They're our inter-conference rival.
"We've beat Columbine the last couple of years," she said. "We'd like to win both of those this year."
But the toughest challenge for Steamboat usually is the weather not its opponent. In three-feet of snow, the Sailors will not find their way to outdoor practices or onto a regular-sized lacrosse field for several weeks. Compared to their warmer southern competition, that puts Steamboat at a disadvantage.
"As always, our weakness stems from always practicing indoors and having to travel to all of our games," Polumbus said.
"That puts a strain on us. It's tough to convert to a full field."
Since spring practice started on Feb. 21, the team has been practicing in the high school gyms. But Steamboat will have to transfer its game from a basketball-sized playing field to a grass field of 120 by 70 yards when it scrimmages Ralston Valley and Mullen this weekend.
As the weather warms, the Sailors are hoping to be outdoors by early next week and to have their first home game by April 11. When the snow melts, Polumbus said the Sailors are usually more than ready to play on the grass fields.
"They take to it pretty easily," she said. "They're cooped up inside so long, they're excited to be outside and they excel."