The members of the Steamboat Springs soccer team should have been celebrating Tuesday's 5-2 victory over Battle Mountain after the final whistle.
But as the Sailors left Dudley field, the players' long faces reflected their concern for fallen teammate Dusty Atkinson.
Atkinson was seriously injured in the first half after colliding with Battle Mountain goalkeeper Muzy Gaziogla in front of the Huskies net. It took several minutes for an ambulance to arrive at the game. It was driven onto the field, where Atkinson was loaded into the back and taken to Yampa Valley Medical Center where he was expected to undergo surgery for a broken leg.
"It's really tough to deal with," Steamboat senior Andrew Comeau said. "We used the injury as motivation, just like we did at Alexander Dawson when we lost Sean Carlson to an injury. We knew that we couldn't replace Dusty, so we just tried to pick it up a notch."
Steamboat was up 1-0 when the injury happened, thanks to Austin Ross' goal four minutes into the game. Ross fired the ball from the right side of the field after getting a nice pass from Devin Borvansky. The ball sailed over the outreached hands of Gaziogla into the upper corner of the net for the first score of the game.
The Sailors' next scoring opportunity came when they had an odd-man rush on the Battle Mountain goal just a few minutes later. Atkinson got into a one-on-one with Gaziogla, who was rushing forward to stop the attempt. The shot sailed high just before the collision. Play was stopped as trainers and medical personnel rushed onto the field to help Atkinson, who clearly was in pain.
After the injury, and a lengthy delay, the Steamboat players were shaken and understandably out of rhythm. However, the Sailors managed to keep pace with the Huskies through a brief scoring spree that marked the final minutes of the half.
Battle Mountain got things rolling with 14 minutes left to play when Antonio Aparicio fed the ball to Harrison Brown. Brown beat Comeau for the score and tied the game at 1-1.
Steamboat rebounded, however, less than four minutes later. This time Daniel Barney passed the ball to a charging Borvansky, who was able to slip past Gaziogla and fire a shot into a wide-open net.
But the scoring wasn't over.
Battle Mountain's Dane Jacobs tied the game at two on a free kick at the 21-minute mark. But 30 seconds later, Steamboat regained the lead when Bjorn Utu passed the ball to Harry Packer, who beat the goalkeeper to score.
"We started off really neat and tidy with our play in the first 10 minutes, " coach Rob Bohlmann said. "But the injury changed that. We had to make the change when Dusty left the game, and it really broke up our rhythm."
The coach said that his struggles to replace Atkinson in the lineup, however, were secondary to the injury, which is expected to end Atkinson's season, and the effects it had on the team.
In the second half, Steamboat made several moves in the lineup because of the injury to Atkinson and another to teammate Mike Litzau, who also left the game in the first half.
Bohlmann moved Comeau out of the goal into Atkinson's spot and replaced him with junior Jordan Gray.
"I've played there (in Atkinson's position) my entire life," Comeau said. "But we needed somebody in goal at the start of the season, so I stepped in."
The switch paid off for Steamboat in the second half. Gray didn't give up a goal and Comeau helped improve the flow up front. Packer and Comeau scored goals to seal the victory in the second.
"It's disappointing for him and for the team," Bohlmann said of Atkinson's injury. "It's just like another Sean Carlson."
The coach said the team would have to make adjustments before its next game in Palisade on Thursday. He said one of this team's strengths is its perseverance, and he expects the Sailors to rebound.
Steamboat is tied atop the Western Slope standings with Rifle. Rifle beat Glenwood Springs in Rifle Tuesday 3-1.
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