Steamboat Springs The boys on the Steamboat Springs High School soccer team ask themselves one question when eyeing their final stretch of league games: are we growing or are we dying?
"It's a big saying we throw out there on a daily basis, and it's how we approach every day," Steamboat head coach Rob Bohlmann said about the mantra that has pushed the Sailors to improve from a slow 1-5-1 overall start.
Since that start, Steamboat's offense has exploded during a three-game winning streak in which the Sailors outscored opponents 17-1. The streak included a big win Saturday against Glenwood Springs, who is tied for second place in the Western Slope League with Steamboat and shares its league record of 4-3-1.
Battle Mountain, with an unbeaten record and a 9-2 win Tuesday against Palisade, is in sole possession of the league's top spot. A total of five available spots are up for grabs when it comes to advancing to the 32-team Class 4A postseason bracket.
Bohlmann and the Sailors are focused on punching their ticket to the playoffs by repeating as the league's runner-up.
But with four league games remaining, Steamboat will have to continue improving. The challenge begins at 4 p.m. today at Gypsum Creek Park, against Steamboat's toughest opponent left in league play, Eagle Valley. In the teams' previous match Sept. 11 at Gardner Field in Steamboat, the Sailors defense had its strongest performance of the season in a tight 1-0 win. Anchored by a career-high 12 saves from goalkeeper Connor Birch, the Sailors shut down a volatile Devils offense that is led by the league's best finisher, Cesar Castillo.
Bohlmann said the Sailors defense would have to stay organized and in control at Eagle Valley today. The coach said he has been pleased with the team's defensive organization, which starts with center fullbacks Michael Lyon and Bryce Peters and spreads to outside backs Colton Harding and Andrew White. Bohl-mann said the Sailors defense turns tackles into counterattacks that kick-start the offense.
"If we can get those numbers (of defensive players) up (on offense), it will equate into quality opportunities," Bohlmann said.
Bohlmann said getting the ball to a rotation of four players with contrasting styles - Sean Hurst, Daniel Wright, Kevin Bertrand and Tony Rende - in the two forward positions has allowed the Steamboat offense to make the most of its playmaking talent.
But the Devils are also heavy on individual talent, and are definitely in the mix for the league's No. 2 spot - their league record has been adjusted to 2-3-1 after forfeiting a game because of an ineligible player.
After today's match, Steamboat next heads to Lafayette at 11 a.m. Saturday for its one Front Range test of the year, against Centaurus.
"That's a solid group, but it will let us know how competitive we can be in that environment, and if we have a positive result, it bodes well for us and for the league as far as (postseason) seeding goes," Bohlmann said of the non-league game.
Steamboat has its final home game of the regular season against Rifle at 11 a.m. Oct. 13, sandwiched between two final league match-ups at Palisade and at Moffat County.
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