Steamboat Springs The mood was loose. Both the Steamboat Springs and Battle Mountain soccer teams were laughing and joking during pregame ball drills.
Then, the whistle blew, and the Sailors put together their best first-half effort of the season, and arguably their best 40 minutes of soccer in four years, en route to Wednesday's 5-2 win against the Huskies.
"The game was won in the first 20 minutes, as far as their tone and level of play," Steamboat coach Rob Bohl--mann said.
The win gives the Sailors (9-1-1 overall, 9-0-1 in league) sole possession of first place in the Western Slope League standings. The win also avenges an early-season 1-1 tie with Battle Mountain.
"We came out strong." Sailors senior Ann Barney said. "We were all a little nervous, but there was some confidence. You have to be confident."
Steamboat attacked early and often during Wednesday's game at the Christian Heritage School fields, but the Sailors didn't get on the board until senior Kelly Labor's penalty kick 14 minutes in. Senior Casey Garth drew the foul in the box.
Battle Mountain's Kelsey Sanders evened the score one minute later on Steamboat's only big defensive miscue of the first half. Teammate Julia Burnett got the assist.
Instead of slowing down, the Sailors upped their intensity, converting a corner kick at the 22-minute mark. Barney headed the ball past Battle Mountain keeper Kori Landauer. Labor got the assist with her corner kick.
"We've been working on finishing," Barney said. "Rob keeps stressing that it's a mentality."
Sophomore Carly Earp scored what turned out to be the game-winner with five minutes left in the first half off a rebound. Labor's initial shot was a rocket on a straight line toward Landauer, who couldn't hang on.
"I thought we gave them a touch too much respect early in the first half and sat back," Huskies coach David Cope said. "I was really proud of how the girls didn't give up in the second half."
The Huskies put consistent pressure on the Sailors in the second half before Sanders got behind Steamboat's defense with nine minutes remaining for her second goal. Emily Lybarger was given the assist.
The game -- poised to finish in another tie -- remained close until junior Lauren Letson gave the Sailors a two-goal lead with her score off a rebound with four minutes left. Junior Betty Sasak fired the initial shot.
"We wanted to come out here and do what we know how to do," Letson said. "We work a lot on following through, sticking with the shot, not turning around and giving up."
Labor, draped in Battle Mountain defenders for 70 minutes, got all the separation she needed, scoring Steamboat's final goal in the closing minutes.
"It's too bad we don't have more games like this," Bohl--mann said.
Cope shared similar sentiments.
"The two games against Steamboat were the only ones we've had this year that have been competitive at halftime," he said.
Battle Mountain (10-1-1, 9-1-1) moves into second place in the league, but the Huskies and Sailors are clearly the class of the league and the Western half of the state.
Steamboat has little time to celebrate Wednesday's win. The Sailors host Eagle Valley at 4 p.m. today at the Christian Heritage School fields west of town.
Battle Mountain plays Eagle Valley at 4 p.m. on Saturday in Gypsum.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley, call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org