Goalkeeper Connor Birch stops a hard shot during Monday afternoon's practice at Gardner Field. Birch will be one of several veteran players the Sailors will be looking to for leadership this season.

Photo by John F. Russell

Goalkeeper Connor Birch stops a hard shot during Monday afternoon's practice at Gardner Field. Birch will be one of several veteran players the Sailors will be looking to for leadership this season.

Sights set high for Steamboat boys soccer

Sailors seniors tired of finishing second

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2008 SSHS boys soccer schedule

Thursday at Summit, 6 p.m.

Saturday vs. Vail Mountain School, 11 a.m.

Sept. 2 vs. Glenwood Springs, 5:45 p.m.

Sept. 6 at Rifle, 11 a.m.

Sept. 9 vs. Moffat County, 4 p.m.

Sept. 13 vs. Centaurus, 11 a.m.

Sept. 18 at Glenwood Springs, 5:45 p.m.

Sept. 20 vs. Palisade, 11 a.m.

Sept. 27 vs. Eagle Valley, 5:45 p.m.

Sept. 30 at Battle Mountain, 4 p.m.

Oct. 4 at Palisade, 11 a.m.

Oct. 7 vs. Battle Mountain, 5:45 p.m.

Oct. 11 vs. Rifle at Dudley Field, 11 a.m.

Oct. 14 at Eagle Valley, 4 p.m.

Oct. 16 at Moffat County, 4 p.m.

— Excuse Steamboat Springs High School senior soccer player Daniel Wright, but he's absolutely sick of finishing second.

In each of his first three years, Wright has seen Battle Mountain High School finish just ahead of his Steamboat team in the Western Slope League.

So as the senior begins his final campaign, he is ready for a change.

"I'm about as sick of (finishing second) as you can be," Wright said. "Our eyes are set on (Battle Mountain) and getting it done."

Wright is expected to lead a Steamboat team heavy on upperclassmen. The Sailors lost only three seniors from last year's team and are expected to battle for a league title. But when Wright surveys the field and the players who have been together for years, a league title is not the only thing on his mind.

"I think we've set a goal within the team to win the league and make it to the playoffs," Wright said. "But the ultimate goal is to have a home playoff game. I think we have the team to do it. The team is mostly seniors and juniors. We're an older group and we've been playing together for years."

That cohesion presents a Catch-22 in veteran coach Rob Bohlmann's eyes. Judging from play the past couple of years and play at some summer tournaments, Bohlmann said the team has a great sense of continuity at all three levels. But with that continuity, Bohlmann said the team still is looking for an on-field leader - a player that will step up and simply take over a game.

"A challenge to that group cohesion is they're so much on the same level that we don't have those personalities that are the leaders, the organizers and the ones that set the standards," Bohlmann said. "We're still finding those leaders within the game."

Bohlmann said an early candidate - along with Wright - is junior goalie Connor Birch.

Birch, who played magnificent at times last year, is starting to understand the complexities of the game, Bohlmann said.

"We have a lot of leaders on this team, so it's not completely on my shoulders," Birch said. "But it's going to take playing with passion, having the will to win and getting it done. It will be good as long as we leave everything out there and have no regrets."

While Bohlmann called Battle Mountain the early league favorite, he said it's part of Steamboat soccer to have high expectations.

And as is the case every year, those expectations lead to talk of a league championship.

"Every year, the moment we step on the field for training camp the expectations are extremely high," Bohlmann said. "Every group comes in saying, 'Hey we're looking for that league title.' Part of that is due to the rich soccer culture we've developed over the last 20 years in this program, and part of it is these kids have the desire to go out, play hard and win.

"But we want to become the best group we can. If that means a league title, hey, that's fantastic."

- To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229 or e-mail lgraham@steamboatpilot.com

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