Vail The first meeting of 2006 between Battle Mountain and Steamboat Springs girls' soccer lived up to its billing.
The two 4A Slope heavyweights battled it out to a 1-1 tie during 90 minutes at Freedom Park in Edwards on Saturday.
The tie snapped the Sailors' 36-game winning streak in the Slope, dating back to a 2002 loss to Glenwood Springs. It also was Battle Mountain's best result against the Sailors since April 23, 1998, when the two teams also tied as 3A foes.
"That took off right where things left off last spring," said Steamboat coach Rob Bohlmann, referring to the last game of the 2005 regular season when the Sailors eked by Battle Mountain, 1-0, in Steamboat.
"Battle Mountain wins, 1-1," joked Huskies coach David Cope.
"It was everything that not just high school sports should be, but sports should be," the coach said on a more serious note. "You've got representatives of two different communities, kids who have grown up with each other and two programs that are building a little bit of a tradition. The kids came out on both sides and played with heart and passion and left everything on the field."
The Huskies likely left the pitch with a little more jump in their step -- Battle Mountain has never beaten Steamboat -- but the mutual feeling was one of unfinished business. The two teams meet again in Steamboat on April 18.
"We've been fighting for this for God knows how long," Huskies co-captain Morgan Wallace said. "It's unbelievable. We have a great chemistry here. We all fought for it, and we all wanted it. We finally shut them down. I'd be surprised if we didn't play twice as well next time."
Steamboat's Kelly Labor said her team would learn from the game's outcome. "I'm obviously disappointed, but you can't sulk about it," she said. "You just have to take this game and move forward. That's what our coach is trying to make us do.
"It was a challenge coming into our first games playing two top teams (No. 1 Broomfield and No. 8 Battle Mountain). That was a challenge. That was something we had to do, and you can't use it as an excuse or a crutch. You just have to take every game as it is, and that's the job we've got. We gave it our all. Our team fought."
Two saves, two goals
Battle Mountain came out with a little more spark early, but Steamboat goalie Kirsten Ryan was up to the challenge. Kelsy Sanders broke into the Sailors' end and was denied by a diving Ryan.
The senior keeper again stepped up on a strong run by Emily LyBarger minutes later.
"Her goalkeeping definitely kept us in the game," Bohlmann said. "She was solid and very composed and did a tremendous job. Through her goaltending, it really helped us to slowly get into the game a bit."
Ryan spoke matter-of-factly about her play.
"It felt routine," she said. "I was just doing my job. It's the reason I'm in there."
Battle Mountain broke through in the 15th minute, starting with an effective run by Sanders. She passed the ball to Julia Burnett, who crossed it to Christy Madison for a 1-0 lead.
"Kelsey crossed it over to Jules, and Jules slipped it through two of their defenders, and I just knocked it in," Madison said. "It was unreal. I didn't think it was going in. I thought I was dreaming. It was amazing," Madison said.
"I think Christy Madison's the glue," Cope said. "She holds the whole team together front to back, left to right, and for her to get the goal, and she's played club with so many of those girls, that's a nice moment in her career. Hopefully, there are great moments to come."
Great moments seem to be Labor's specialty. She scored three of her team's four goals against the Huskies in the past season and struck again late in the first half Saturday.
She fielded a booming punt from Ryan and beat Huskies' keeper Kaity Plath on the left side to send the teams into intermission tied at one.
"Kirsten played a great ball over the top," Labor said. "She's got a heck of a punt. Her punts are always long. It went over two defensive players' heads, came straight to me, and I just took it in."
Both teams had a nice flow in the second half and extra frames. Although each had scoring chances, the defenses were rock solid.
For Steamboat, it was a matter of a few adjustments. Bohlmann moved Jessie Dover from up top to one of the center backs. That stabilized the midfield, allowing Bohlmann to pull back Casey Garth to the center as well.
Battle Mountain had many runs during the final 50 minutes, but were seemingly always met by the red wall of Dover, Garth, Sara Harding and Haley Galeger.
"They're amazing, especially our two center backs who are seniors," Ryan said. "I've been playing with them for four years. We just know each other. They make me feel more secure and comfortable. They're wonderful to have back there."
Meanwhile, Battle Mountain's three backs -- Christina Harrison, Wallace and Kelly Van Hee -- matched Steamboat blow-for-blow. Plath came up big in the net with a clutch save late in the second half.
"Both teams had to make critical plays defensively," Cope said. "Obviously, Kelly Labor's a great player, but they have other great players -- Ann Barney and some of those kids. We didn't want to end up in a 1-on-1 situation. We always had players sliding across."
Need field, will travel
Steamboat (0-1-1 overall and 0-1-1) technically hosts Glenwood Springs on Monday. But with the winter weather up north, neither Craig's nor Steamboat's pitch will be ready. Cope has offered Freedom Park for a 3 p.m. varsity game, but athletic directors need to settle the details.
Joking that Freedom Park was "the center of the universe," Bohlmann gave his players instructions after the postgame huddle.
"The way we finished things up was, 'When you come to school on Monday, girls, bring your home jersey, your away jersey and a practice kit,'" he said. "We don't know what we're doing."
Battle Mountain (3-0-1, 2-0-1) holds the lead in the Western Slope. Going into spring break, Cope is pleased that the Huskies took care of their business. The Huskies next play at Glenwood on April 4.
"We read a quote from the president about the Chicago White Sox," Cope said. "He said to them, 'Hey, you went out on opening day, and you never surrendered the lead for the rest of the season.' It's a nice thing to shoot for."