Finding the desire to improve on last soccer season is not a difficult task for Steamboat Springs senior Chad Oliver.
"Our drive is not to repeat it," Oliver said of the 2004 season when the Sailors finished with a 2-11-1 record and behind four teams in the Western Slope Conference standings.
It was the first time the Sailors failed to qualify for the playoffs and put coach Rob Bohlmann and his players in an unusual position -- out of the playoffs and near the bottom of the Western Slope League standings.
"This year is different," Bohlmann said. "For the first time we are the hunters instead of the hunted."
Although it's the team's goal to get back to the top of the standings and back into the playoff hunt, Oliver and fellow seniors Chris Troeger and Neal Ficker are not expecting the climb to be easy.
"The first few games last year were an eye-opener," Ficker said. "But this year, I think it will be different."
Despite having six seniors last season, Steamboat didn't return a lot of varsity playing experience to the field. Two of the six, Dillon Dennis and Kalen Caughey, were new to the team.
Alec Nelson, Danny Carlson, Tyler Andrew and goalkeeper Jordan Gray were all seniors. However, before last season, most of them had seen only limited playing time.
That will not be the case with this year's team.
Along with this year's returning seniors, the team also has several experienced underclassmen including Max Hamil, David Comeau and Bjorn Lickteig.
"It's a lean group," Bohlmann said. "We have about 30 players out for this year's team."
The numbers are down, slightly, from the team's average of about 36. Still, Bohlmann said competition in camp has been stiff, and he expects his players to be pushing to earn a varsity position.
"We are going to have to focus on working hard and doing things right day in and day out," Bohlmann said. "Because of our smaller numbers, we are going to have to push harder. ... That motivation is going to have to come from inside."
However, Bohlmann is confident this team can put the struggles of the 2004 season behind it and find success on the field in 2005.
" I think the coaching staff is getting some good vibes from this group," Bohlmann said. "They looked good in scrimmages last week, and there's promise with this group."
The Sailors will open up the 2005 campaign on the road against Mountain View on Wednesday.
"It should be a good test for our guys," Bohlmann said. "There's no pressure to win that game -- Mountain View is a very good team and should push us to step up our level of play."
However, Bohlmann said, the next game, which will take place three days later against Rifle, is key to the team's outlook this season.
It will he a tough contest for the Sailors inside the "cage" the name given to the Rifle Bear's playing field, which is narrow and surrounded by a chain link fence.
"If we can go down there and get a good result, it will have a definite impact on the way our players view the season," Bohlmann said.
Oliver also thinks the game will be important.
"We have a good team chemistry this year," he said. "Nobody wants a repeat of what happened last season, and we want to get off to a good start."
-- To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org