Sometimes the weather cooperates -- even in Steamboat Springs.
Typically, the Sailors open the competitive season at the end of March, and the snow doesn't melt off the high school track until just days before the first meet.
This season, coach Andy Reust scheduled two early season meets to give the inexperienced members of this year's Steamboat Springs track and field team more meet exposure and to allow each athlete the chance to run and compete in warmer weather.
The Sailors -- albeit just 28 of the expected 65 athletes who are projected to compete -- open the 2004 season Saturday at the Mickey Dunn Invitational in Grand Junction.
To help, warm temperatures have melted the snow ahead of schedule, allowing Steamboat to be outside training when it typically is forced to run circles indoors.
"There were some good track meets early, and I wanted to get the kids started earlier to maybe help figure out relays," Reust said.
While that won't happen because a number of athletes aren't ready to compete, the early season meets will help the coach and assistants figure out some of the unknowns -- and there are many.
New faces are everywhere this season, on seniors and freshmen alike. Last season, the Sailors qualified seven athletes for the state track meet, and the number likely will be higher this year, considering six of those seven were underclassmen.
"The boys side will be competitive if we stay healthy," Reust said. "On the girls' side, we have more depth. We have 38 girls out this season."
In turn, Reust is sending the Steamboat team to several larger meets against larger schools, many of which the Sailors will race against at the state meet -- should any make it that far.
Sophomore Jessica Peters would like to go back after qualifying for the 100, 200 and 400 meters as well as the high jump last season. She is the defending state champion in the 400.
"Last year, I had no expectations because I was a freshman," she said. "To me, regionals was just another meet. Even when I qualified for state, it didn't hit me until I got there. I still want to have fun, but this year with the relay, I expect a lot."
The relay is Steamboat's sprint medley, which consists of two 100s, one 200 and a 400. As of Wednesday, sophomore Missy Chotvacs and Hannah Bowers were running the 100s. Freshman Patricia Henderson was running the 200 with Peters anchoring.
Chotvacs qualified for state last season in the triple jump and has experience running, but Bowers and Henderson are newcomers.
Newcomers may lift the boys to success, as well.
"I think we'll be really good," said senior sprinter Tyler Johnson, a state qualifier last season. "I think we'll be better than we were last year."
The basis for Johnson's optimism is the planned arrival of several athletes who have yet to come out mixed with the pleasant surprise of others already practicing.
Russ Ruppert, a cross country runner, has emerged as a legitimate sprinter to push Johnson this season. Steamboat also figures to be strong in the distance events and relays, if, as Reust says, everyone stays healthy.