Rob Bohlmann picked Battle Mountain to win the Western Slope League this season, but the Steamboat Springs soccer coach didn't expect the Huskies to take early command of the league and clinch the championship several weeks ago.
On Thursday, Battle Mountain wrapped up its regular season with a 9-0 win against Steamboat, finishing 11-1 in league play and 13-2 overall.
Bohlmann has been coaching at Steamboat for 14 years, and he said this year's Huskies' squad is one of the best he's seen in the Western Slope.
"They play very well," he said. "They play very simple soccer, and defensively, they are very well-organized. This is one of the best teams to come out of our league."
Quick decision making, precise shot selection and excellent ball control define this year's squad, and all were on display Thursday in a game that the Huskies said they spent a week preparing for.
"We have such respect for Steamboat," said Battle Mountain coach David Cope, who has known Bohlmann for more than a decade. "We needed to treat this like a playoff game."
The Huskies did just that, seizing control early and never letting up en route to scoring four first-half and five second-half goals. Six Huskies players scored, including senior Andy Banner. He needed just one goal to set a new Battle Mountain record for goals scored in a season, but he had three Thursday and did not play much in the second half. Banner finished the regular season with 22 goals.
"My team wanted it, and I wanted it," Banner said about the school record.
But it wasn't evident at the beginning that anyone had his mind on the mark, as Banner passed the ball around trying to set up teammates instead. Senior Edgar Hernandez scored the first goal. He finished with two goals and ended the regular season with an impressive 12 goals.
With 10 returning starters this season, the Huskies had high expectations for the season, and winning the league title was near the top of the list. The last league championship came in 1992.
On Thursday, the members of the Huskies were wearing their new gray championship sweatshirts and posed for pictures after the game. Postseason seedings will be released Sunday.
Also scoring for Battle Mountain on Thursday were Chris Gavin, Joel Gonzales, Brad Meyers and Juan Barragan, who returned from an early season injury.
Many of the veteran members of the Huskies squad were thrown into varsity action as sophomores. The lessons those players learned two years ago have enabled them to become a successful team. This year, Steamboat had one of the youngest teams in recent memory, as freshmen and sophomores were asked to play significant minutes against senior-laden opponent teams.
The results weren't great. The Sailors finished 2-12-1 overall and 2-9-1 in the league, but Cope is expecting Steamboat to be much improved in the coming years when the underclassmen are league veterans.
On Thursday, though, was set aside to honor the six seniors on the Sailors' roster: Alec Nelson, Danny Carlson, Tyler Andrew, Jordan Gray, Dillon Dennis and Kalen Caughey. The players presented flowers to their parents at halftime.
Nelson, Carlson and Andrew grew up playing soccer in Steamboat. Gray, Dennis and Caughey attend Lowell Whiteman School and joined the program later.
"Danny, Tyler and Alec were born and raised playing soccer," Bohlmann said. "Both them and their parents have given a tremendous amount to Steamboat soccer through the years. The kids from Whiteman have been a nice addition."
Andrew said one of his best memories of playing soccer in Steamboat was last year's championship at the Alexander Dawson tournament, a first for the Sailors.
"No Steamboat team had ever done what we did in the preseason," Andrew said. But this year's seniors were asked to lead and teach those coming after them. Andrew said he hoped the seniors passed along a few lessons.
"Work as a team," he said. "Stay together as a team and always work hard."
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